Cowboys and Shepherds

This was originally published on on May 5, 2010.
Coaches differ in personality, but that doesn’t mean that one style is better than another.  Different styles attract (and keep) different clients.
Consider two styles of animal control, the Cowboy and the Shepherd:
The Cowboy:

  • Guides the animals by herding from the rear, or the middle, of the group
  • Is loud
  • Slaps leather fearlessly
  • Throws himself in the way of the charging animal
  • Prefers confrontation to provoke immediate action
  • Uses the tools available, including voice, but also whip and heel;
  • ‘Breaks’ animals, and then builds them back up better
  • Uses a one-on-one approach most often

The Shepherd:

  • Changes a stubborn animal’s direction a little at a time, not head-on
  • Leads from the front, usually with bait, or a promise
  • Avoids direct confrontation, because blocking a sheep from grain will only create more desire
  • Creates safety in numbers
  • ‘Teaches’ the animals with the carrot instead of the stick
  • Uses the group dynamic most often


  • Love the animals
  • Can coexist in the same barnyard
  • Use the same tools (hay, water, grain)

Of note: though the ‘cowboy’ figure is more romanticized,  it’s no coincidence that the largest grassroots-driven movement of all time refers to its Messiah as “The Good Shepherd.”  If people can relate to you as one of them, part of The Resistance, a leader in name and action, they’re more likely to follow.  It’s sometimes easier to convince the flock to move in a single direction than one single wild stallion.  So says me, but hey – I come from generations of shepherds.


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