If you look up the phrase “Cowboy Up” in the urban dictionary, (yes there is an urban dictionary) you will find the following explanations:
- When things are getting tough you have to get back up, dust yourself off and keep trying.
- Quit your bitching and be a man. When it gets tough start playing hard.
- When faced with a hard chore, it’s a shift in attitude from “can’t” to a positive “can-do” with confidence and a non-complaining spirit that becomes contagious.
- Basically, another way of saying “Shut up and take it like a man” or “Quit your whining.” The term is derived from the popular image of cowboys being tough, unflinching, uncomplaining, and hard-working.
“Cowboy Up!” became a part of the culture that we were trying to instill in operations at different locations. It was really a way to let others know we had a no quit attitude and believed there would be a way to adapt and overcome. No matter how bleak the situation seemed, we could find the fortitude to dig in and stay the course. We can count more times than we care to about lying under a piece of equipment day and night thinking, “This is bad, this is really bad.” Many times we thought we were down for the count; not for hours but for days, weeks, and possibly months. And you know what? There were those times, but we surrounded ourselves with the right people that had diverse talents and experience who allowed us to work through the issues and get back online.
Unquestionably you have faced many comparable incidents. How do you maintain forward momentum in tough times like these? How do you convince the troops the battle is not over? How do you as leader, convince others to “Cowboy Up”?
“Cowboy Up” is truly more than a statement. It’s a culture, a standard, a way of life that evolves to be the norm – the expected. It is certainly not a time to lose faith, composure, or determination. Whether you are the owner, CEO, supervisor or plant manager, in the face of seemingly unsolvable problems, all around you expect you to lead. And to convey to them that success is reachable. It is not a time for panic, berating team members, or creating an expectation of failure. Subordinate the emotion, that’s right, forget it and maintain your values.
One of the most important things to keep in mind is that is it not a weakness to not have an immediate answer for every question. This is critical when dealing upstream with corporate. And it’s tough to do. It’s very difficult to be a leader (meaning you are in charge) and not answer every question put before you. But you will influence the culture in a positive way by simply being honest with yourself and your bosses. You can respond that you do not know but can assure that you will find an answer. This allows time to regroup, get others involved, and convey a much better and more accurate response. This does not show weakness or incompetence. It shows experience, integrity, and that you are human.
Whether you are from Texas — or a real Cowboy or not — the need to “Cowboy Up!” and convince others in the plant to do the same, will be a frequent event. Let’s face it, in manufacturing you typically work many hours, different shifts, weekends, get called in, and confront several problem situations. It’s not for everyone and it’s not for the weary. As a leader, your true grit will have to strengthen many others around you.
Image Courtesy of Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries.