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It’s not in my LinkedIn profile, but the first job I ever had was working on a farm.  You might imagine a me in a straw hat and overalls picking vegetables but that’s not the case; our “crop” was animals.  It was a Black Angus farm.  The center of attention was the pure-bred, prize winning bull worth over $300,000.  His job, if you can call it that, was to express his affection for the hundred or so cows at the farm so they could bear his offspring and the farm could sell more meat for more money.   That bull is where we got the word “stud.”   He was one.

After I left for college and moved on to other things I happen to run into some friends who still worked at the farm.  It turns out that on a particularly cold wintry evening they left the prize bull out in the freezing cold and he caught some form of bovine affliction and keeled over dead the next morning.  Three hundred thousand dollars of dead meat.  Just like that, the farm lost its primary asset.

What does this have to do with alignment, technology and sales?  Well, I’ve been wrestling recently with the question how much “bull” you should have in your approach to business.   The double entendre seems appropriate because we all know people who step to the center of the spot light and strive to establish their dominance within a group or division.  This form of leadership is sometimes exactly what you want.  A go-getter.  Someone who isn’t shy about expressing their opinions.  Someone who builds an avid following.

But “following” has become a loaded term. People choose to follow you on Twitter.  They follow topics on Quora.  They follow thought leaders on LinkedIn.  If you have a following, then by definition you must be a leader, right?   In some cases, yes, but in other cases it’s just a number that people manipulate and to push their way to the center of the barnyard.  It’s just bull.

The problem, as the other male cattle born on my farm can attest, is the effect that a dominant bull can have on group dynamics.  The other problem, as my co-workers on the farm discovered, is a bull-centric approach to self-promotion is fraught with risk that somehow the bull ends up legs up in the barnyard.

The lesson?  These will sound familiar, but bear repeating in an era when our influence is theoretically measured in Klout and Kred:

Lead by example.

Obsess about inspiring other people.

Be successful by making other people successful.

Share your thoughts.

Listen.

Ask questions.

Be honest.

And.. watch the bull.

 

 

Bull photo via luagh45 on Flickr.