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Wanna act all Yellowstone at work? Maybe not such a bad idea.
Yes, I mean it. You might be thinking, what is she on an about? In the business world, being considered a cowboy has more than once been considered a negative thing. It has been said that cowboys are aggressive and result-oriented, and that they provide bad leadership and they can not be trusted. But is this really true? Does being a cowboy in business represent poor leadership and dodgy deals?
According to Urban Dictionary, a corporate cowboy, is «an an individual who works for money for the sake of money. Takes care of business for business' sake. Renegade working inside corporate ranks, f…ing up all kinds of bottlenecks and complacency. Rocks the boat and follows the money. Will break rules AND take credit for it.» Collins dictionary describes a cowboy this way: «a person who is an irresponsible or unscrupulous operator in business.»
Hold your horses, it's time for a change of perception on this. It is time to give the cowboys more credit and maybe even it’s time to learn from one of the oldest professions still existing in 2023.
What exactly is a cowboy and what has this got to do with the business world? A cowboy is a person who herds and tends cattle and living in harmony with the nature, if the nature is willing, that is. The work is lonely, you have to cope on your own, and the work is hard. If you are a leader yourself, this might sound familiar.
Driving cattle might be the best way to describe the similarity of leading a company and its employees. Driving cattle is short described as moving cattle from one place to another. As a cowboy you have to listen and observe your horse, and also learn to read the cattle. Your behavior has a direct influence on the behavior of the cattle and what direction they are headed.
If you want to keep a steady course and keep moving forward in a sensible speed, you don’t want to push too hard from behind. You want to give the cattle enough room to settle in, and let them walk towards the right direction. Not everyone likes detailed management, and some employees need freedom to be able to perform their best at work. Giving employees time and space can be essential for achieving good results.
When driving cattle and you see a slope coming up ahead, then you should get on the underside of the cattle, be visible, so that they don’t start to pull down the hill. In the business world, tough times are expected. And this can affect morale and can also create fear. At the same time, the way up seems very difficult. If and when employees are going in the wrong direction, or they are acting out of fear, then it is important as a manager to support and stand out as safe, solid and being visible.
What happens if you have all the cattle in a perfect line in front of you, and you get impatient and start pushing more from behind to get them to move faster? They will spread out, and you will spend a lot of time gathering them again. As a leader, you may get impatient and want faster results, and you may start to demand more from your employees. The question is how you do it and how much you demand. As a manager, you risk dissatisfaction among employees and that they go in different directions. Finding the right balance is key.
Acting more like a cowboy can help you become a better leader. Listen and observe, lead and support. Somehow, this just seems like common sense, doesn’t it?
The background for this article came alive in The Bighorn Mountains. Since 2017 I have had the pleasure of traveling to Montana and Wyoming and driving cattle. I have been doing this with authentic cowboys in the most beautiful scenery in the world. And somehow I also managed to become a cover girl in a US magazine: Destination Sheridan in 2022. Now that is a fun fact.
Thanks to the Kerns family at The Double Rafter Cattle Drive, and to Christie Hanes and Jerry Jones for giving me the opportunity, the trust and freedom to ride their horses and drive their cattle. By doing this, they made made my lifelong dream come true. And it ain’t over yet.