One of my CEO teams went on our annual adventure trip we call Outbound last week. The team visited the Hoy family’s Flying W Ranch in the Flint Hills; 7000 acres of rustic Kansas that is home to long horn cattle, coyotes, and some of the smartest dogs I’ve ever seen. The scenery was like a beach except it was all tallgrass prairie as far as the eye could see; God’s country.
The main event for the trip was a day working the ranch on horseback. For us, that meant moving 200 head of cattle from one pasture to another, separating cattle for market, and trying to keep our butts in the saddle and bodies in one piece.
It was a good day. After our steak dinner and sitting around the campfire, we were discussing our different experiences, close calls, and moments where we stretched ourselves. One partner commented on how he learned something about his work via the cows.
The area where we were trying to keep the cows in a holding pattern to be separated had a fence on two sides. Our job was to form the fence on the other two sides with our horses. This allows the fence to quickly move to let the appropriate cattle through and be shifty enough to keep the cows in the holding pattern. It turns out that cows are sneaky and are always looking for the weak link in the fence to graze on their own.
At certain points, the front part of the cowboy fence will apply “pressure” by riding to the front of the line, and some cows get spooked and want to turn and run. That creates an “if you are going that way, so should I” mentality, so the cows put pressure on the backside of the cowboy fence. It was the job of half our group to absorb the pressure and keep the cows in.
Being the newbies that we were, the first time this happened, several cows got through. They would stress test the fence, find a weak spot with a cowboy who didn’t have total control of his horse, and then make a run for it. A few cow friends would follow.
As part of the cowboy fence, what would your first reaction be?
We immediately broke off to go get the cattle. Dumb move. That opens a big gate that the cows see is open and EVERYONE wants to go through.
That lack of discipline meant that the entire cowboy fence had to regroup by riding back through all the cows and then bringing them back to the holding location. A ton of time is lost and the cows are restless again; Not a good idea.
One of our cowboy coaches for the day, Roy, told us that it’s better to hold the line and let one cow out. That way, when the moment is over, we can realign the fence, and he can go get the stray cattle.
What’s this have to do with business?
1. As a leader, you can’t let the stray cattle take your eyes off of the main objective.
How many times in your week does a stray cow get by your fence and you immediately go and try to get it? Is this the best time? Are you best person to go after that cow? Isn’t the herd and the big job at hand more important? Yes. But you do it anyway. It’s right in front of you and a shiny object. The problem is that a change of focus lets the whole herd through the open gate and takes you twice as long to get back to the job at hand.
Stop chasing cows.
2. Send your best person to handle the stay cattle
An hour into riding a horse did not qualify any of us to go rustle up an individual stray cow. The best person for the job was our cowboy coaches. We were great fence posts. Cattle rustlers, we were not.
How many times do you complete tasks because it’s easier to do them yourself than to find the best person to accomplish the task? Or is it a form of procrastination that leads to a drastic decrease in productivity?
Delegate chasing cows.
Staring into the sunset of our day, we were in awe of the scenery. It’s good to unplug and re-center, get back to basics and get out of the office chair.
It’s also great to get back to the office chair. There’s a lot less pain involved riding it all day.