The “Bell Cow” and thoughts on Leadership – The Natural Leader will Emerge and be Identified as the Leader

(This is post #2 from the shared wisdom of Charlie Bahr, “The Entrepreneur’s Godfather.” Read my earlier post on “fixing the company” by clicking here).


the cows follow their leader, their "Bell Cow"
the cows follow their leader, their “Bell Cow”

In the land of farmers with cows (is it ranchers with cows — they each have cattle?…) there is usually a cow with a bell around its neck. It’s the “Bell Cow.” The Bell Cow has a bell around its neck because the other cows are always following the Bell Cow.

But, the bell is for the rancher/farmer, not for the cows – they don’t follow the bell. They follow the cow. The bell is so that the farmer can find the lead cow, and thus the herd of cattle following the lead/bell cow.

In other words, the bell cow is not “appointed.” The farmer does not choose some random cow, put a bell around its neck, and appoint it as the lead cow.

In other words, the bell does not make the leader. The leader gets the bell. The cows are already following the lead cow.

How did the cow become the lead cow? Charlie did not reveal that piece of insight; but he did say that there is never any doubt. The Bell Cow is, in fact, the lead cow, and there is no dispute about that among the other cows – they follow their lead cow. Farmers watch which cow the other cows follow, and they can identify the lead cow.  That’s the cow to put the bell on.

Now, I realize that we are not cows. But I know this – we have some real problems in the arena of leadership.

Charlie implied that when he is brought in to “fix the company,” one of the challenges he faces is the challenge of identifying the true leader, the “Bell Cow,” the leader that the people will in fact follow.

This much is clear. That leader may not have “leader” on his/her business card — but that leader will in fact be the leader the others follow.

To put it in more familiar terminology, where there are no followers, there is no leader. And, if you have no followers, you are not a leader, no matter what the title on your business card says.


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