Among organizations partnering with the Center for Cowboy Ethics and Leadership, the University of Wyoming College of Business is right at the top of the list. Beyond working with the Center to develop Standing Tall in an Upside-Down World, a business ethics program based on the Code of the West, the College has become the driving force behind the initiative, working with the Wyoming Chamber Partnership to offer half-day workshops to business managers and owners.
In addition to leading the program, Kent Noble, Assistant Dean of the College, plays a hands-on role as workshop leader. He has also created an active blog for the program along with a “Community of the Code” for graduates. He recently gave us his perspective on the effort.
Kent, you and the College have invested substantial time and resources in this project. Why did the College decide to become so deeply involved?
The program came about because of all the excitement generated by the premiere of Jim Owen’s film, The Code of the West: Alive and Well in Wyoming, and the state’s subsequent move to adopt the Ten Principles of Cowboy Ethics as the official state code. The Wyoming Chamber Partnership, the umbrella organization for all Wyoming chambers, caught the fever. They approached the Center and the College, asking us to consider creating a program for business managers and owners. We thought it was a great idea, and our administration and board have been completely supportive. In fact, our board members have gone through the program themselves.
As for our motivation, I’d say that meeting the needs of Wyoming’s business community is indeed part of the College’s job. The program is also a great outreach vehicle for us. What better way to build relationships with Wyoming’s business leaders?
How many have taken the training so far?
About a hundred business managers and owners have participated in three sessions to date. We have two more scheduled in the next month alone, and we’ve been contacted by other companies that are interested. It seems that every time we do a program, another opportunity pops up.
What reactions are you getting? Do you encounter a lot of skepticism?
I get the sense that many people coming to the workshops aren’t quite sure what they’re in for. In the sessions we do talk about personal principles as well as organizational ethics. Many participants express surprise at how much meaning they find in the discussions. The Ten Principles of the Code of the West are such that they register at the core, and when people start to talk about the principles that are meaningful to them personally…well, often they really open up to each other. It’s a great thing to see.
It can all get pretty emotional. One of the things we talk about in the sessions is the Wyoming Youth Initiative, as an opportunity for businesses to get involved with their communities. When we show them what the Center and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Central Wyoming are doing to help young people build a stronger foundation for their lives, people are genuinely touched. Every time we show the film clip of young people talking about their own 11th Principles, I get emotional myself .
How are graduates putting the program into action in their businesses and communities?
A good chunk of the workshop focuses on ideas for putting individual and company codes into action, and I expect we’ll be hearing a lot more about exactly how program graduates are doing that. While we invite people to pledge to “live their codes,” we encourage them not to sign if they aren’t sure they can put their principles into action. As we say, it’s not about having a code, but about living it.
That said, after the last workshop, I got an e-mail from a senior bank executive in Jackson, saying “I can’t wait to put my principles into action.” That makes me feel like we’re really making a difference. Even if we only reach a few in each session, the ripple effects can be enormous.
Do you believe this program could grow beyond Wyoming? Could it work elsewhere in the same kind of format?
Yes, absolutely ; I’m convinced a program like this could be effective in Colorado or New Mexico or any other state. By way of evidence, one of the inquiries I’ve recently received is from a California company that would like to put its entire leadership team through the program. While we think Wyoming is a special place that’s naturally attuned to the Code of the West, being in a Wyoming is a point of pride, not a prerequisite.
What does this effort mean to you personally?
That’s an easy one to answer. It’s been thirty years since I graduated from the University of Wyoming, and in my career I’ve had the opportunity to do so many things that are challenging and rewarding. Yet it took me all this time to figure out what my true passion is. The fact that this program is making a difference in people’s lives is so incredibly powerful and rewarding to me personally—especially the ability to connect businesspeople with youth who need help. I feel so strongly about the work that I would do it even if I weren’t being paid for it. My fondest wish is for this program to grow wings and really take off.
Kent Noble can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information on the Standing Tall program, please visit its website at http://www.uwyo.edu/business/standing-tall/ and the program blog at http://www.communityofthecode.blogspot.com/.