Cattle Driver or Coach: What Type of Leader Are You?

Over the course of 2020 and 2021, the landscape of the business world has changed drastically. Many businesses were forced into Work-from-Home situations in the height of the pandemic and, while it was originally thought that work couldn’t be maintained this way, many businesses have adopted this model permanently or shifted to a hybrid model. Almost all employees would choose to work from home if given the choice, but for those in leadership, there are always other considerations that have to be taken into account. What’s deemed as the “best” decision by employees isn’t always the best for the business. Leadership is somewhat similar to parenting in the aspect that you have to make decisions for people that they won’t always understand, but it ultimately does have everyone’s best interest at heart.

Whether your business has shifted to a permanent work-from-home model, hybrid model, or remained as an in-person model, the one thing that every business leader needs to take into account is their mode of leadership. The motivations and mindsets of a lot of the workforce have shifted and leaders must adapt to ensure that the business remains effective. In most books on leaders, there are anywhere from 6 to 12 different types, but for most purposes, those types fall into two major categories: Cattle Driver or Coach. Let’s take a deeper look at what goes into each of these.

As most of us understand, Cattle Drivers have their goal in mind and the cattle don’t get much of a say in the process. While this is the primary type that we’ve seen throughout the years, the workforce that now holds a large percentage of Millenials and Gen Z is not thriving in these environments. Employees with these types of leaders are seen as more of a line item, tool, or means to an end, similar to how cattle drivers view cattle. Their humanity is stripped away from them and they are expected to take their orders and work tirelessly towards them without being able to give any type of input or potentially work with their leader to develop a solution that is truly beneficial for all parties involved.

The flip side of this is your leaders that take on more of a coaching approach. Coaches at all levels are given the responsibility of the team’s success even though they are not the party responsible for actually doing all of the work to get there. The true job of a coach is to see the game from a high level and develop a strategy to accomplish the goal. This strategy will then need to take into account each specific player’s strengths and weaknesses. In the workplace this would be a manager or team leader defining what the goal of the team is and then, from a high level, making the decisions and adjustments within the team that will allow the goal to be accomplished in the most efficient and effective way possible. Teams then discuss the process and rely on each other to carry their respective portion of the load. This allows employees to retain their humanity and also helps develop a collaborative, and hopefully communicative, team setting. Different goals and challenges will demand different things from the team and it’s a coach’s job to make sure the correct adjustments are made to get everything accomplished.

Most people would deem the coach as the obvious choice for a better leadership approach and while I think they are correct, we must not negate the appropriate times for the Cattle Driver approach. In high-pressure situations, coaches may need to become the cattle driver to ensure everything runs smoothly. Some important decisions create an environment where people need point-blank instructions/directions. These moments are best used in smaller doses to avoid employees feeling taken for granted or overlooked.

The best thing for most leaders to do is stay agile. A willingness to adapt on both parts will be the determining factor of overall success. All leaders will not be as effective at each type of leadership, but every leadership team should have a member that thoroughly understands the use of each and can successfully convey it with the team under them.

OJ Montgomery
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