by Tim Durkin
Everyone knows that cows aren’t very close to the top of the intellectual ladder, right? So imagine my surprise when I discovered that I was acting like a cow when it came to reaching my leadership goals. Chances are, in
some ways you are, too. Let me explain.
Shortly after moving to Texas, I was invited to a friend’s ranch. It was, to use the common parlance, a big spread. He invited me to share in the chore of checking on his herd in the afternoon. We clambered into his pickup
and set off across the rolling hills populated with brush and the ubiquitous live oak and mesquite trees. Soon we were passing through one fence line and then another. I noticed that we did not have to stop and open or close gates, but instead went over asphalt strips with lines painted across them.
Being curious, I asked my friend how it was that the cows stayed in the right pasture. He replied it was because of those cattle guards we kept going over. Sensing my confusion, he explained that early ranchers had had
to erect gates around all the pastures on their property. While it was effective at keeping the cows in, it was a nuisance for the ranchers. Think about it: Every time they reached a gate, they had to stop the truck, climb out,
open it, secure it after going through it, and get back in the truck and repeat the process on the other side. Doing this at every gate in the hot Texas sun or the cold, windy winter was a chore in and of itself.
He went on to explain that some smart rancher took the gates off, dug a shallow ditch, and laid 10 or so six-inch-diameter pipes across the opening. While cows are not long on analysis, they do know they can’t walk across
pipes with their hooves. The problem with the pipes, the rancher explained, was that the ranch hands often hit them at about 40 miles an hour, causing all sort of untoward things to happen to expensive ranch vehicles. Soon, those high vehicle repair costs caused ranchers to look for another solution to keeping the cows fenced.
Well, some upstart rancher came up with an effective technique to keep the cows where they belonged. This ingenious rancher picked up the pipes, filled in the trench, paved over the dirt with a little asphalt, and painted
10 lines across the area where the pipes had been. Sure enough, whenever the bovine wanderers reached that spot, they eyed the lines suspiciously, knew they couldn’t go across them, and ambled back to do the cow thing. “They never figured out it was only paint!” my host chortled. “If you talk to my cattle, please don’t tell ’em,” he added with a wink and a sly grin.
This experience got me to thinking: What are my painted cattle guards? What are the self-imposed limitations that keep me from doing what I want? It wasn’t hard to come up with the answers. I hate to fly and am on the
introverted side. Yet I make my living speaking and training groups of people all around the country on leadership, change, teamwork, and sales. How do I manage this?
While I hate to fly, I love to read. So rather than think about hovering over the Earth at 35,000 feet, I think of the wonderful opportunity I have to read. And rather than thinking that I’m speaking in front of a large
group, I maintain eye contact with one person at a time, since it’s much easier for me to speak to one or a few than to many.
Take a moment and think about it: What are your painted cattle guards? What are the irrational fears that keep you confined and away from what you want to do, what you want to contribute, what you want to have? I was
surprised to learn that the only fears a human being is born with are the fear of loud noises and the fear of falling. Every other fear is learned and can, therefore, be unlearned.
So what’s it going to be? A life of adventure and accomplishment, or a life limited by imaginary and self-imposed gates and fences?
Tim Durkin leads individuals and groups from promise to performance. He specializes in helping manage through times change, teambuilding, sales and leadership effectiveness and personal development.
For reprint information or to find out more about Tim Durkin and Seneca Leadership Consulting, you can contact him at 972-523-5151 (972-394-5216) or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.