The Cowboy Way

By:Jan Mazotti Issue: Collaborative Leadership Section: Letter From The Editor Cowboy

Recently I attended the 2010 Colorado Performance Excellence Quest for Excellence where I heard Baldrige Recipient Dr. Mike Sather, the Director of the VA Cooperative Studies Program present the “Code of the West: Ethics the Cowboy Way.” It made me draw parallels about the theme of this issue—Collaborative Leadership During Tough Times and I wondered what it takes to succeed in America, and what the definition of success really is.

As I listened, Sather discussed the requisite behaviors of ethical “cowboy” leadership—of doing the right thing, of being a good citizen, of putting in a good day’s work, of having a creed to live by. He reminded the audience that, “rules can be bent, but principles cannot.” Sather highlighted the 10 principles of the “Code of the West” as drawn from the 2004 book Cowboy Ethics by James Owens. He described how timeless, universal cowboy values are still relevant today and how his organization, the VA, incorporated the Code of the West to bring a workforce of largely disengaged employees to one that is considered world-class in leadership, teamwork, continuous learning, safety, and customer service.

The principles rang true when I thought of each of the stories in this issue.

Code #1: Be tough, but fair

is one of the fundamental messages of the Partnership for a New American Economy as they wade through the nuances of immigration reform in this country.

Code #2: Talk less; say more

is one of those mantras that resonate throughout the Economic Building Blocks story by Brendan Landry where he tells how a successful public-private partnership was formed to help citizens affected by the current economic downturn. The Peace Corps is really the epitome of

Code #3: Ride for the brand.

Every day, the organization lives the mission by engaging the expertise of over 8,500 worldwide volunteers.

Code #4: Live each day with courage

is seen in the story of ARZU Studio Hope where 700 Afghani women are developing self-sustaining economic activity in a country where their roles are relatively predefined.

Code #5: Always finish what you start,

Code #6: Do what has to be done and

Code #7: When you make a promise, keep it

are the foundational codes of the work that is being done with the redevelopment of the World Trade Center in New York. Plagued by uncertainties, the Port Authority committed itself to creating a sense of collaboration where the mission of reconstruction of the buildings and creating a fitting memorial to the lives lost, are central to every activity on the construction site.

The Paradigm Project’s work of reducing environmental degradation, improving the health of women and children, and increasing economic stability by offering families clean cook stove technologies embodies

Code #8: Take pride in your work.

Code #9: Know where to draw the line

is seen in the collaborative case study of Tom Boasberg and the Denver Public Schools. Pushing hard for school reform, managing significant budget cuts, and still seeing strong and steady growth in student achievement is a theme throughout this story. Boasberg has drawn the line and has seen progress. But that isn’t enough—there is more to come—making sure that every graduating student is prepared for college or a career.

And finally, our story on Rotary International demonstrates the lesson of Code #10: Remember that some things aren’t for sale. For 100 years, Rotary in Colorado has accomplished great things by improving communities locally and around the world. Motivated by good, and with determination, Colorado Rotarians recount the success of the 2010 Centennial Project that will bring high-speed Internet capabilities to every school district in the state. Whether you can personally relate to a cowboy or not, perhaps there is a little cowboy in all of us. Whether we live our lives by one, five, or all ten of the “codes,” at the end of the day, character is all we have. Should we stand up for what is right, even if we are standing alone?


That is what the organizations in this issue are doing.

Have you found your “cowboy?”

- Jan Mazotti