Cows and New Gates – The Power of Unspoken Permission

The boss cow has a long line of cows behind her when they head to the barn. The grass wears away and a narrow cow sidewalk hardens under their hooves because they follow the same path year after year.

Cows – like people – are creatures of habit.

Farmers open the gate to let cows in and out of the barn yard. But if you move the gate 10 feet to the left or right, the boss cow stands where the gate used to be. The long line behind her waits.

Cows staring.

Example is permission.

Farmers literally force boss cows to walk through new gates. But once the leader walks through, the long line begins moving again.

You don’t force every cow through a new gate, just the boss cow.

How leaders give unspoken permission:

Example is permission.

What permissions are you giving with your attitudes, actions, interactions, and expectations?

  1. Shading the truth is permission for deceit.
  2. Self-seeking is permission to disadvantage others for personal advantage.
  3. Pretending to have it all together is permission to manipulate.
  4. Avoiding tough conversations is permission to focus on meaningless superficiality.
  5. Defending yourself when you screw up is permission to blame.
  6. Vulnerability is permission to build fulfilling relationships.
  7. Seeking the best interest of others is permission to reach high.
  8. Developing your own skills is permission for people to acknowledge their desire for growth.
  9. High standards are permission to challenge.
  10. Compassion is permission to connect.


What if the people around you reflect the unspoken permissions of your example?

When you think of example as permission, what permissions are you giving?