The Best Business Lessons Are Learned in Rural America, Not Corporate America

April 2, 2018

Most executives spend much of their time in an office, interacting with their employees, hosting business meetings and tackling tough challenges.

As the CEO of a growing health and wellness company in Philadelphia, I’m no different. But, it’s my time away from the typical office environment that helped me unlock leadership lessons I never expected.

Serving as a cattle rancher in rural America has taught me more than my 30+ years in corporate America. What I’ve also observed is that both the rural and corporate worlds have a lot to learn from each other, but rarely do. By blending the wisdom and common sense of cowboys and ranching with the strategic sense of executives, we can unearth important lessons for business leaders.

The first lesson in my new leadership series is about overcoming obstacles. When I set out to build my ranch in North Dakota, I realized quickly that I wasn’t a natural-born rancher. I wasn’t as physically strong as my new rancher friends, who helped me put up miles of fence lines that would separate my new herd from my neighbors. I also couldn’t be the behind-the-scenes strategist for the operation, since I had zero ranching experience. I stood in the shadow of these new friends, who had volunteered to help me, and realized quickly that I would need to find a way to overcome these new found obstacles.

This got me thinking about obstacles in the business world, from fear and politics to bureaucracy and territorialism. These obstacles often block people’s paths to success. Territorialism in the workplace can be especially tough to face, since people have worked hard for their turf and any “givebacks” may make them feel like they’ve lost something.

My advice to help the territorial types realize that sharing is better than owning. After all, who likes to eat alone in the company cafeteria?

This is where demonstrating true leadership comes in – we size up the situation, pull back from it and then construct a path forward to remove obstacles to success for others. This ability is a gift, and those who have it owe it to themselves to share with their colleagues, themselves and their companies.

People admire leaders who can identify conflicts or challenges and take it upon themselves to do something. It takes time, but the rewards of helping employees remove barriers and overcome obstacles are the building blocks of great companies.

And as for me, the fences I built with my new friends decades ago are still standing strong.