I have spent the last month crisscrossing Middle America, giving keynotes and leading workshops. (Shout out to the wonderful folks in Kansas City; Louisville, Ky.; Tyler, Texas; and Cincinnati who hosted me.) The Midwest and the South are such special places to me and have a special way of doing things. I grew up in East Texas and come from a long line of ranchers, cowboys and pioneers. Even though we live at a time when, with the swab of a cheek, you can learn about your genetic code, our experiences also make up who we are. And, Middle America lives by a code that is as much a part of who I am as my DNA. I call it the “Cowboy Code.” Recently, as I watched the eulogies for George H.W. Bush, I realized he also lived by this same code. As this year comes to an end and we reflect on resolutions for 2019, I thought I’d share these tried and true principles of the “Cowboy Code.”

  • Take pride in your work. I have met all types of workers in my life, but the hardest workers I have ever met are farmers and ranchers. They are up before dawn and work until the work is done – however long it takes. They also ensure that the work is done right – no matter how long it takes. There are no shortcuts or excuses. I often joke with my students that “mediocre is the new average” and encourage them to take pride in their work and strive for excellence.
  • Do what has to be done. In all my life, I have never seen my grandparents, uncles and aunts, or my parents complain about the work at hand. I don’t think they ever even considered it. They just spent that mental energy getting the work done. No excuses. How often do we spin our wheels thinking about a task rather than just getting it done?
  • Be tough, but fair. My parents embodied this and likely learned it from their parents. Cowboys are tough, but they also live by the principle of fairness. They are natural collaborators, wanting everyone to succeed. As we have talked about before, they are “eco-thinkers,” not “ego-thinkers.”
  • Talk less, say more. In the famous Broadway play, “Hamilton,” Aaron Burr sings, “Talk less, smile more.” I prefer “talk less, say more.” Cowboys are keen observers of the environment and only talk when they need to say something. When they do talk, they are concise and direct in their communication. They also know that actions speak louder than words.
  • When you make a promise, keep it. This is my favorite lesson learned from my family. And, it is one that is less common today than in the past. We get so caught up in “busyness” that we forget how important our word is to others in building trust and consistency.


When I reflect on the “Cowboy Code,” I realize that I have learned it through many of the men and women in my past and present. Not because they told it to me, but I saw them lead by example. I would love to hear from you about lessons you learned from the “cowboys” in your life.


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