“Sorry Don’t Get It Done, Dude”
John Wayne Playing John T. Chance In The Movie Rio Bravo
1. Live each day with courage
2. Take pride in your work
3. Always finish what you start
4. Do what has to be done
5. Be tough, but fair
6. When you make a promise, keep it
7. Ride for the Brand
8. Talk less and say more
9. Remember that some things aren’t for sale
10. Know where to draw the line
This is the 5th of my 6 pillars and – as I’ve done with every prior post – I’ll link back to prior entrants.
This is the post that started the series:
I followed that with a post on my 1st Pillar, “IF” by Rudyard Kipling:
Next came a post on my 2nd Pillar, “Life A Good Life” by Marcus Aurelius:
I followed with a post on my 3rd Pillar, “Six Mistakes Of Man” by Cicero:
Most recently, I added a post on my 4th Pillar, “What Counts” by Teddy Roosevelt:
Let me start this post by saying I am not a Cowboy, nor do I play one on TV. I spent the better part of my young life in Texas – in Dallas from around age 10 to age 18 – then on to Austin for school from age 18 to age 25. No – I didn’t pull a Belushi 🙂 – I was at The University of Texas at Austin for both my undergraduate and graduate school experiences. Having said that, I’m as much or more a Southerner as I am a Texan – having been born in NC at the Camp LeJeune Marine Corps Base and then moving in fairly short order to Jackson MS, New Orleans LA, Birmingham AL and El Paso TX before settling down in Dallas around the age of 10. My father’s family is from Jackson and my mother’s family is from New Orleans and I still have plenty of my people in both places. I’ve spent a fair bit of time around horses – we kept horses from the day we moved to El Paso through our time in Dallas. I’ve done my fair share of feeding and grooming and taking care of tack – complaining about the work all the way . I know how to ride and I’ve ridden a fair bit but I’m no true horseman – this was always more my sister’s and mother’s hobby than it was mine. Still, I consider Texas my home – always will – and I’ve known a fair few people that either could be called cowboys or who like to describe themselves as such.
That’s not where this came one from. I found this through a website for a non-profit called The Center For Cowboy Ethics And Leadership where these ten principles are referred to as the Code Of The West:
And they’ve always spoken to me – particularly with respect to my professional life. While they have utility in the day to day, these 10 principles have been pivotal for me over the course of the last 10 years as I’ve further defined myself as an employee, a professional and a leader.
These are my high level decision filters. They guide me through challenges and tricky situations. They don’t speak to the specifics of any situation. They help to define attitude and ethics – the larger lens through which I understand and manage my obligations or address and solve my problems. I can remember very few challenges at work over the course of the last decade where they haven’t helped me frame the problem.
This post would go on forever if I were to try and speak to every one of the 10 rules so I’ll tease a few out and try to show you how they work for me. I’ll start with #7 – Ride for the Brand. This isn’t referring to “brand” in the marketing sense – it refers to the organization you’ve hired on to – to which you’ve made a commitment. At the core of that commitment is the explicit understanding that by accepting their offer to join and taking their dollar, you’ve agreed to serve. You adopt their rules and culture – you don’t ask them to adopt yours. You’ve signed on to that Brand and you have to honor what they tell you it means. If you don’t, it should come as no surprise when you find yourself looking for another Brand to sign on to.
Nothing, however, is absolute – which is why #9 and #10 are so important. It’s not unlikely that, at some point in your professional life, you’ll commit to a Brand without fully understanding who they are or what they stand for. It may also happen that you wind up working for someone within your organization who represents an imperfect representative of your shared Brand or who simply chooses to disregard what that shared Brand stands for. When that happens – and it’s happened to me on at least one occasion – you find yourself in what may be an unsustainable position. It’s time to remember #9 – Some Things Just Aren’t For Sale.
Once you’re there, you have options. You can object, take a principled stand in the face of authority or work to change the situation from within. You can challenge the person you’re working for who’s creating the inconsistency. I can, however, say with a fair bit of confidence – based on many years of experience – that in most cases you’re not going to get the outcome you want. Brands are built to protect themselves and preserve their status quo. It doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t make the effort. You should, however, enter into efforts like these with eyes wide open and a very realistic set of expectations – and that’s why #10 – Know Where To Draw The Line – is so important.
It’s far too easy to lose sight of this one. At one point in my working life, I did for almost 4 years. It’s way too easy to tell yourself that you may not like where you are, that you’re not happy riding for a particular Brand, but that you can’t make a change. You need their dollar too badly or you won’t be able to find something better. In doing so, you change your own standard for what is and what is not for sale.
There’s nothing straightforward about these types of calculations. They’re the hardest conversations you’ll ever have with yourself. There are times when you’re right to change that line regarding what is and is not for sale – at least for awhile. As I said before, I’ve screwed this up myself on more than one occasion – either by forgetting those things that aren’t for sale or by being far too arrogant about trying to insist on having my own way in the face of a Brand culture that wasn’t a perfect fit but was, overall, very acceptable. Those were times when I failed to remember one of Cicero’s “Six Mistakes Of Man” – The Refusal To Set Aside Trivial Preferences. Nevertheless, having these 10 Cowboy Rules with me wherever I go does force me to think in these terms and, as I get older and more experienced, I get better at using them. They make a huge difference for me.
I’ll finish by saying that I have, for most of my life, worked for large organizations – the U.S. Government or large public corporations. I don’t know how useful or relevant these rules would be for someone working in a startup or a small company or as an independent contractor. I do know that they serve as a great foundation as you’re trying to grow, develop and advance in the corporate world.
I’ll also say, just to provide context, that I’m not – never have been – one of those who believe that you have to love what you do. Far too many pontifical CEOs, inspirational speakers, high paid consultants and professional coaches have popularized this notion. I consider it to be one of the cruelest lies that far too many people – particularly young people – tell themselves. In 30 years of work life, I don’t think I’ve ever loved a job or an employer. The things I truly love are the things I leave my work and travel home to every day – my wife, my children, my dogs, my neighborhood, my books, my gardens, the chance to get a run in or work out – so many other things. My job and my employer are there to give me the means to pay for and support and continue to enjoy the things I love. It’s always been far more than enough for me to like what I’m doing and, for almost every job I’ve ever had, that’s been the case.
I’m now left with one final Pillar – “Feed The Right Wolf” – which is actually going to be addressed in two separate posts. The reason for doing so is that there are actually two versions of this principle. There’s the one that most people know as “Feed The Right Wolf” – the on that fits on a PowerPoint slide and that teaches a simple lesson and then there’s the one called “White Wolf, Black Wolf” which is far more complicated and harder to explain and apply to your life. It’s also probably teaches a more fundamentally meaningful principle.
Very Best Wishes For A Great Week!