Friday, January 24, 2014

Real-Life Stories of Cowboy Ethics in Action

By Jim Owen

“What you give is what you get.”  Life really does seem to work like that, doesn’t it? My job title at the Center for Cowboy Ethics is “chief inspiration officer,” and it’s one I take seriously. So imagine my delight when, right on the heels of my last blog post, on “being a difference,” a big infusion of inspiration came back to me, thanks to the University of Wyoming.

As cowboys remind us, what matters is “actions, not words.” The current edition of the University’s UWyo Magazine illustrates this beautifully with a heartfelt series on people who are having a positive impact on campus.

Each story is a shining example of one of the Ten Principles of Cowboy Ethics in action. There’s the University’s director of research support, who keeps working as he battles an incurable degenerative disease (“live each day with courage”); the gardener who lovingly tended the campus flower gardens for more than three decades (“take pride in your work”); the UW graduate who spearheaded the University’s early leadership in online learning programs (“ride for the brand,”); and seven more. The headline on the series is “Can One University Make An Impact?” The answer is clearly ‘yes.’   
There’s another theme that runs through these stories—that is, relationships. When you think about it, the way we have an impact on the world is almost always by making other lives better in one way or another, even if they are the lives of people we don’t personally know.

When it comes to Cowboy Ethics, the relationship that I and my foundation have had with the University of Wyoming has been pivotal to our work. Not long after the state of Wyoming adopted Cowboy Ethics as its official state code, the University did the same, at the urging of the student body. Beyond that, the College of Business uses the Ten Principles of Cowboy Ethics in its business curriculum, and also worked with my foundation to launch our popular Standing Tall ethical leadership workshops. In the process we gained an executive director when Kent Noble left the College of Business to come work with us full time.  
My thanks to the people at the University of Wyoming for their continuing partnership and support, and for this latest inspiration. This edition of UWyo Magazine is one I will save, re-read, and treasure. 

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The New Year’s resolution I didn’t see coming

By Jim Owen

For years, “Make a difference” has been one of my guideposts for life. Through my books and speeches, as well as the activities of the Center for Cowboy Ethics and Leadership, I‘ve hoped to inspire others in ways that meaningfully change their lives. 

Now I’ve got a new mantra. Last month I was honored to be presented with an ethical leadership award from the NASBA Center for the Public Trust, a group that promotes ethical behavior within the business and professional communities. It was immensely gratifying to be recognized for the work that has been my passion and my career for more than a decade. The award itself is a handsome piece I’ll display proudly.

But what struck me most of all was the power of the words emblazoned on the award: Being a Difference, which is the name NASBA has given its program. That phrase made me realize that “making a difference” sets the bar way too low. Striving to “make a difference” puts the accent on isolated acts that may or may not be characteristic. Even someone who is profoundly unethical can make a difference simply by writing a check, perhaps salving a guilty conscience in the process.

“Being a difference” is something else again. It speaks to who you are as a person. It’s about your life, what you stand for, and the kind of example you set each day. In short, it lines up perfectly with the core message of Cowboy Ethics: everyone needs a code…a creed to live by. What’s inspiring about cowboys isn’t just that they embrace the Code of the West; it’s the way they live their code each day. This is why striving to be a difference, rather than just make a difference, is my number one New Year’s resolution.

Thank you, NASBA. Beyond giving me an award I truly prize, you’ve given me a new way to think about how I live my life.