Cows and New Gates
Cows, like people, are creatures of habit.
Dairy cows wear paths in fields from walking the same route to the barn, day after day. If you move the gate, they’ll walk to where the gate used to be and wonder why they can’t get through.
Whatever you do, don’t move the gate.
In order to get the herd to the barn, you must drive lead cows through the new gate. It won’t be easy. Cows don’t like new gates.
Entire herds follow, once lead cows go through new gates.
Ineffective leaders expect less from themselves than they expect from others. They expect others to go first when it comes to risk, failure, and learning, for example.
Corporate teams who spend most of their time preventing mistakes and protecting image lead slow, fearful organizations.
Self-protective leaders lead cautious teams.
Leaders who take six weeks choosing a new color for the lobby shouldn’t expect agility and innovation from their teams.
Indecisive leaders lead sluggish teams.
Everyone waits for leaders to go first.
Teams follow your example before they follow your words.
Expect more from yourself than you expect from others.
- Step out first.
- Fail first.
- Get up after you stumble first.
- Learn first.
- Praise first.
- Apologize first.
- Open your heart first.
- Say, “I don’t know,” first.
- Say, “Let’s try,” first.
- Ask, “What are we learning,” first.
Exemplify the character, attitude, and behaviors you expect from others, first.
- Complain last. Ever see leaders complaining about complainers?
- Lash out last.
- Give up last.
Expectation and going first:
- If you expect courage, forgive first.
- If you expect innovation, fail and learn first.
- If you expect curiosity, ask questions first.
- If you expect energy, take action first.
Be what you expect others to be, first.
How might leaders exemplify what they expect from others in specific ways?
Amazing post. Reads like poetry but without any obscurification. I’ve learned this most with my own two. I apologize first so they see my example and try to be polite first even when they KNOW they need to get their shoes on rather than floating to the Lego table.
Thanks James. Love that you introduced parenting!
I’ve long said that parenting from this mindset made me a better person.
Another great post with a super analogy to cows and their predictable repetitive actions! The frequently heard phrase, “We’ve always done it this way” sums up the situation in too many organizations.
Being first to me requires a delicate balance. Being first keeps things moving and builds cohesion (done right) with the group. But it’s also necessary to encourage everyone in the group to fully engage as well.
Your list for “Expectation and going first” to me at least addresses that balance!!!
It’s very true that organizations take on the personality of their focal leader. Great focal leaders allow others to come out from under the umbrella of their style and lead also, in their own style.
…but many never get past allowing others to cut their own path, or enter a new gate in your metaphor. I think this requires two skills, first- respect differences (another’s way may be better) second -develop with jealousy (this means giving up he/she will always be my underling.)
This is truly one of your best and most inspiring posts! Leaders must practice what they preach. They also have to be brave in so many ways. Some find it easy to fail and get back up again. Others find it easy to forgive first. The art of leading requires a broad stroke of competence across all these areas. It’s not simple and it takes time to get comfortable with and learn these skills. But at least we can learn them! ; )
James is spot on in bringing up parenting – we are not born with these skills, we have to learn to model the behaviors we want to develop in our children. Likewise, leaders must do the same for their teams. This brings to mind a line about the role of the parent from one of my favorite poems by Khalil Gibran called “On Children”:
“You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are set forth…”
Leaders, through their actions, can set their teams on a path to success.
Love this!!! It should be obvious to us that leaders “lead” and go first, but too often they push instead which puts them on the wrong end of leadership. Other times they just “call out” and tell people what to do. When you are consistent in your actions, others trust you and will follow. My husband used to “lead” the cows he had with a bucket of range cubes, jingling it to get their attention. Once they figured out there would be a treat (food), he could put rocks in the bucket and they would come. He could get them to go anywhere because he gave them a treat once in a while (and fed them on a regular basis). Many times they pushed him (literally!). My dad “called” in the cattle. Most of the time they came but sometimes he had to go get them. My husband’s way was more successful most days because he was right there with the cattle. Trust is nurtured and actions speak louder than words.
Excellent! As a leader, the only time when you shouldn’t be first is when something goes wrong: then you should be the last one out, making sure your people are (literally or metaphorically) safe. First in, last out and don’t leave anyone behind!
Dan, by far this post is the most excellent and substance filled ever. It’s loaded with content, from how-to insights, performance, behavior and success outline, and on-the-ground strategies–to a thinking leader’s guide for introspection, cause and effect philosophy made pragmatic, and a great reminder of the importance to remember the basics.
Famed UCLA basketball coach, John Wooden, always speaks of the basics “first.” In his book, Wooden, he portrays his very first meeting with his team—2 weeks BEFORE actual practice— where he personally demonstrated how he wanted players to put on their socks each and every time: He carefully rolled the socks down over the toes, ball of the foot, arch, and around the heel, then he pulled each sock up snug so there would be no wrinkles of any kind.
The details of the basics are the difference between champions and near champions. What are OUR fundamentals? What are the little things we need to do to make sure our “socks are on right” so we don’t get blisters and have our performance suffer when we need to be at our best?
And, we must also remember: If we spend too much time learning the “tricks” of the trade, we may not learn the trade. If we’re working on finding a short cut–the easy way–we’re not working hard enough on the fundamentals. We may get away with it for a spell, but there is no substitute for the basics. And the first basic is…good, old-fashioned practice.
Success is the natural consequence of consistently applying the basics.
Very, very well said! I agree with James in that this post reads like poetry. 🙂 Great reminder that we teach to others more in what we do rather than in what we say.
This reminds me of a mantra from a mentor of mine: “We teach that which we most need to learn.” I took that to mean that we teach, lead, and coach through the lens of the things that we see as important to work on– often because we’ve internalized them through our own experience.
I wonder how the concept of risk tolerance in our teams plays with this idea– personal risk tolerance would seem to say that our teammates who have a low risk tolerance will increase their own capacity for risk as they perceive an environment to be more stable (as opposed to the traditional idea of “modeling more risk”). Does this mean that leaders must model risk while doing so in ways which still promote stability?
How beautiful and inspiring. Sometimes it can get lonely and even discouraging going “first,” but what you described captures the full essence of true leadership and refuels me. Thank you.
You kicked a mighty goal with this one…