Several years ago when we adopted Cowgirl, our beloved blue heeler, she was already fourteen months old, an adult dog. We had no idea about her past life except for some reason she ended up in the pound. She was a sweet dog, though, friendly and playful – if anything a little too playful – but we loved her spirit, still do. At the time we owned a small ranch in West Texas and some cattle. A few days after acquiring Cowgirl we went out to check on things and took her along. The moment we let her out of the pickup she darted straight toward the cows scattering them like a covey of quail. We didn’t know what to think, perhaps she was a little crazy, would run away and we’d never see her again. In a few minutes, though, the most amazing thing happened. Here she came with our little herd of cattle all bunched together moving obediently toward our pickup. Whether or not Cowgirl had any prior experience herding cattle we have no idea. What we do know is that in that moment she was clear about who she is and her purpose in life. Or as the late Stephen Covey might have said, she had found her voice.
Finding our voice, it is one of the most important things we all must do in order to become effective in our life and work. It is one of the very first things I do with new coaching clients is work with them in discovering their own voice, to clearly understand who they are, their unique personality characteristics, their behavioral preferences, and their purpose and passions. In their classic book on leadership, The Leadership Challenge, professors Kouzes and Posner are very clear about this. “The first step,” they say, “a leader must take along the path to becoming an exemplary leader is inward. It’s a step toward discovering personal values and belief. Leaders must find their voice. They must discover a set of principles that guide decisions and actions. They must find a way to express a leadership philosophy in their own words and not in someone else’s.”
I love my dog, and one of the things I love about her is that she clearly understands who she is. She’s never pretended to be anything but a dog. And the amazing thing is that those cows sensed and respected that about her. That’s what made her effective at herding. People are the same way. People follow leaders who are clear about who they are, who have found their voice. Have you found yours?