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How Much Do We Owe Each Another?

Feb 22nd 2016, Kevin Spafford

Kevin Spafford, for Penton Agriculture's LegacyConnection

Coach Ladouceur "does not emphasize winning. Victories are a byproduct of a larger vision. It begins with a question: ‘How much do we owe one another?’”

Penton Agriculture's LegacyConnection is a multimedia legacy initiative, designed to actively serve the succession planning needs of America’s ag community. The effort is a collaboration among Penton Agriculture’s vast array of media properties and Kevin Spafford's succession planning expertise.  It includes information, tools, and experiences to inform the succession planning process and encourage farming professionals to engage in planning to prepare for a next generation of farming success.

By Kevin Spafford, for Farm Futures Magazine


Though not always acknowledged as such, there is no sport as uniquely American as football. It’s a much faster and more physical game than our other classic, baseball. The sport’s origins go back to Walter Camp in the late 19th century---from there to Knute Rockne and Pop Warner who introduced the forward pass and the rest, as they say, is history.

Now, in the midst of another season, may be a good time to review the longest winning streak in the game’s history and distill some lessons from the leader of that endeavor. With a record of 399-25-3 over 34 seasons, there may be no greater coach in the history of football than Bob Ladouceur (LAD-uh-sur). If his name rings familiar, the story of De La Salle football, and the longest winning streak in the game, was chronicled by Neil Hayes in the book When the Game Stands Tall (as well as a movie of the same name).

Hayes does an excellent job highlighting the leadership skills Ladouceur used to guide his teams successfully over the long-term. From the book, we learn the Coach emphasizes self-responsibility to encourage team-accountability. He recognizes that the way a player performs in the game is a microcosm for their behaviors and attitudes in life. Coach Ladouceur believes that in football, as in life, one can’t expect a perfect outcome; but each person can apply a perfect effort.

FootballThroughout the book, we learn that Ladouceur doesn’t think of himself as just a football coach. He’s a teacher, guidance counselor, and shaper of young minds. This is not unlike family business owners who are, sometimes simultaneously, parent, teacher, partner, and mentor. Much of my work over the past 10 years has focused on familial roles and how they affect family business, especially related to a change in ownership. I’ve often written, ‘the most difficult transition in the succession planning process is from parent to partner and from child to colleague.’

That said, maybe we can take a play out of Coach Ladouceur’s book and help the next generation prepare for the responsibilities of leadership. He says, “We can’t make you great players. We can offer you the opportunity to become great players”, in other words – to create an environment where success can grow. An environment, as the coach says, where, “Teams win because they care – not about winning, but about one another.” So, how is the environment is your operation? Have you created a leadership culture that encourages action, celebrates [perfect] effort, and chooses to focus on ‘learning experiences’ rather than ‘failed attempts’? 

Ladouceur encourages his players to, “Take ownership of this game,” which applies to succession as well. He says, “You can’t wish it and hope it.” Success in any endeavor, “takes hard work and dedication.” So, though you work hard, and you’re dedicated to continuing a successful operation, that success depends on your ability to work through some of the issues that sideline so many other well intended farm owners. No matter which generation you represent, you must ‘own’ the succession planning process and dedicate yourself to creating a plan. I suggest you:

  1. Start with a family meeting. Together with those who are (or want to be) involved in the operation and have a constructive conversation about the future.
  2. Write common goals for the operation. Decide the who, what, how, and when others may be involved in the operation.
  3. Examine the obstacles that may be in the way. Families have issues, especially related to equal versus fair, in-laws, and control, discuss them openly and don’t allow them to interfere with success.  

In a true sense of putting team first and doing what’s best for all, in April of 2014, Bob Ladouceur stepped down and turned the reins over to his successor. After three years of planning for transition, Ladouceur knew it was time to back away and allow the next generation to assume control. So, how much do we owe one another and have you demonstrated your intent?

Published as ''How Much Do We Owe One Another?", by Kevin Spafford for "Farm Futures" magazine, November 2015.

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