farm girl leadership for today's woman

Bessy’s Fearless Follow-Through: Lessons in Management from Herd to Home

Camilla Gray-Nelson

Camilla Gray-Nelson

photo of herd leader using follow-through management
Bessy’s effectiveness came from her willingness and ability to follow-through. She did not apologize for her power, but did not abuse it, either.

Are your kids disrespecting you or your staff failing to complete your assignments? If so, you may want to take a cue from the best boss I’ve ever witnessed: Bessy the Cow.

Bessy was the queen of our dairy herd growing up.  The secret to her success was not intimidation, but fearless follow-through with her bovine crew. She was effective, yet her herd was happy. When she set a rule, Bessy enforced it in her own, savvy way with quiet strength and a predictable pattern while still managing to keep subordinates pleasant and cooperative. I have used Bessy’s management model myself, to shape and motivate not only the dogs in my training school, but my own “herd” of employees within my company!  It can work with children, too, or in any situation where one is in a position of authority and needs the willing cooperation of those under their supervision.

Bessy’s Fearless Follow-Through Model

Bessy’s effectiveness came from her willingness and ability to follow-through.  She did not apologize for her power, but did not abuse it, either.  She employed a consistent, three-stage model which would escalate slowly from gentle reminder to formal disapproval with expectation for change, to serious consequence if necessary. (It usually wasn’t.) We might learn from Bessy’s example about following through with the humans under our own supervision, whether they be our employees or staff at work or our children at home. If we have legitimate higher status in the situation, we can follow Bessy’s 3-Step Fearless Follow-Through Model.

Step 1: Give a subtle reminder or warning

At the first sign of a subordinate’s poor behavior, Bessy would give a subtle reminder or warning — maybe a lowered head and a grumbling moo — to indicate that the other’s behavior was less than acceptable at that point. It was her way of letting a subordinate know early on that they needed to quickly change course and improve, rather than letting things devolve irreconcilably. I think you could say that Bessy’s subtle early warning was Nature’s version of a well-timed, critical performance review. In either case, the subordinate is being treated fairly and given the dignity of an opportunity to voluntarily improve.  It should be noted here that in my own experience with dogs and with people, adding a reward or incentive of some sort for compliance in response to my follow-through hastens cooperation in the future. 

Step 2: Formalize disapproval and clarify expectations for change

If her subtle warning was not heeded, Bessy got more direct. She might give a louder verbalization and step into the subordinate’s space so that there was no doubt that she was displeased. No one could misread or misunderstand her actions because they were no longer subtle. Those who had misbehaved accidentally or out of ignorance quickly shaped up. Only those who intended to challenge Bessy would ignore this formalized disapproval and her clarified expectations. This was Bessy’s version of being called into the boss’s office for a disciplinary conversation and a record put in their official employee file, or being asked by your mom, “Are you going to fix this or do I need to take it to your father?”

Step 3: Take more serious action if expectations are not met

In the case of true insubordination and defiance, in spite of all the chances she had given for compliance, Bessy would finally step it up to real consequence. Her eyes went steely and her determination and purpose were palpable. Without hesitation (or anger) she got serious. For a cow, that might be ramming the offender until they left the scene in defeat. As they walked away, Bessy would stand quietly as if to say, “I hope you learned from this.” In workplace and home applications, obviously it would not be such a physical consequence. At work, a meaningful, final follow-through step Bessy-style might be suspension, leave without pay, or termination. At home with kids, it could be restriction or suspension of favorite activities.

In the end, it is calm and fair follow-through that earned Bessy the respect and cooperation of her herd.  It will be the same for your staff or your children. Channel your Inner Bessy to direct, motivate and enforce all at the same time, without losing your cool. Like Bessy, you can be loved not feared.  You can be a Hero, Nature’s way.

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Photo of author Camilla Gray-Nelson

Camilla Gray-Nelson

“No, I’m not your average coach or mentor, but that’s exactly why you should follow my unique perspective on life, love and career! I promise I’ll share things you won’t learn anywhere else, helping you become Enlightened, Empowered and Effective by decoding the life-changing secrets of Mother Nature herself.”

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