What cows can teach us about communication, loyalty, energy and connection

I have just spent time on a working farm. I drove tractors, loaded hay bales and chased cows back into a field at 9pm. I sat in cow dung on the floor of the cockpit of a speeding tractor on the way to find the cows. And I almost missed the village pizza order. Considering the fact the farmer was a lovely man but a bad cook this had me worried.

The reason I am sharing this with you is because I spent a lot of time with cows. Well not only.

I herded cows on horseback and learned how to influence a herd’s movement using my body language. I got basic training in lasso throwing. And found myself tackling a calf to the ground so we could tag it. We cut the calf from the herd. As one, the herd turned on us trying to rescue the calf. Not just the mother, the entire herd. It was a lesson in solidarity. When you are standing in front of an upset herd of cows, with only a flimsy metal fence between you, you suddenly realise how small, weak and physically insignificant you are.

I also found myself galloping over a recently harvested field, being led by the trainer, muttering 1, 2, 3 to myself to get into the rhythm of the gallop. Hands off the reins and my eyes closed at 15 km/h. She told me afterwards that she commends my courage. Most people she suggests this to refuse because they think the horse could fall. It made me laugh, I hadn’t thought that ‘no’ was an option. It was a totally unlooked for exercise in trust building and ceding control.

I am now black and blue all over. Physically tired, and reminded how very much I love driving tractors. And with a new discovery of the love of working cattle on horseback.

The longer we endure the pandemic the more I discover the joys of being a physical being. On the farm I rediscovered the joy of working with my mind and my body. The simple pleasure of being physically exhausted and mentally satisfied in the evening. The gratification that can be had by working with a team of humans to herd cows back into a field in the dark. And the happiness that can be had simply by being on horse-back in a verdant field, in strong sunlight, immobile a lot of the time, while patiently moving cattle.

You might at this point be asking yourself why I am sharing this with you. Especially how it is relevant to Medical Information, coaching or successfully running global transformation programmes and motivating teams.

And I say to you. You’d be surprised. As humans we rely so much on our minds and brains, on emails, on words, on meetings and we forget that we are also very much physical beings. In times of the pandemic it’s even easier to forget that. Much of what I experienced on the farm is, I believe, relevant to what we do every day in our work places and how we interact with others. Perhaps with two exceptions: my concern about missing out on the pizza; and my deep regret that there is no photo of me immobilising the calf so we can tag it.

Below is what we can learn from cows on communicating, loyalty, energy and connection:

  • The power of non-verbal communication: When working with cows, you remember, that as physical beings we cannot not communicate. They notice your presence, your intention, your energy and they react to that. You can influence the direction a cow will move in, but you have to understand how she will react to your presence. When you move towards her at some point you are in her territory, that is when she will acknowledge you. If you move closer, you start to put pressure on her, and she will start to move. If you know how to position your body relative to hers, you know how to observe her body language, her eyes, her ears, you can influence the direction she will take.
  • The energy you put in when working with cows is the energy they take off with. Like a billiard ball: If you approach a herd slowly and gently they move slowly, if you run at them, they run off.
  • Loyalty and group connectedness: if you cut a cow from the herd, the rest get anxious. If you take a calf, the herd prepares to attack.
  • Cows are individuals: some breeds and individuals move slowly, some move very fast. You cannot treat them all the same. You need to work with all the members of the herd, while working with the herd. You cannot ignore a single member. If you lose one, you risk losing them all. Cows have best friends. If you separate them they get anxious.
  • Herds have influencers and leaders: these are your key stakeholders, you need to figure out who they are and how to work with them and that will help you manage the herd.

From galloping across the field with my eyes closed being led by someone else, I learned that ceding control is sometimes the path to faster growth and learning.

I love working as a coach, I love working with teams in global transformation programmes. Identifying the why, the where to, and what the key motivators are for team members to support, drive and finally own a project with passion and dedication, ensuring that the project will be a success. I enjoy understanding each aspect of my client’s business and organisation and identifying what the best route to success will be. And most of all, I take enormous pleasure in seeing projects I have worked on come to life, and to know that the foundation that we laid as a team will enable sustainable and satisfying business continuity, while also meeting the key needs of the individuals involved in making the project a success.

If you are facing a complex business transformation and would like to discuss how I can help, please don’t hesitate to reach out. Or, if you are looking to develop in your role or looking for a new challenge and are looking for a coach, who understands your business environment, and who can support you to identify next steps, I’d be happy to chat.

Wishing you all the best, stay safe,


Photo taken by Corinne Weisskopf

Questions for you:

  • During the pandemic have you found yourself enjoying physical activities more?
  • Have you ever driven a tractor? When and where?
  • How do you feel about cows?