What Leaders can Learn from Cow Names

By Manie Bosman

A friend recently remarked that in spite of the rising popularity of relational leadership models, proper empirical research proving if and how organizations benefit from these leadership models is still scarce. One result which comes close is a survey among 651 employees in a suburban Georgia county which tested Peter Greenleaf’s proposal that servant leadership improves organizational performance by fostering trusting relationships. While the results of the survey only pointed to a positive relation between relational leadership and organizational trust, previously published research has firmly established the positive correlation between trust and performance.

While empirical evidence might still be scarce, feedback from the field has long ago proven more or less conclusively that organizations do benefit when the focus of the leader is on the follower. Already by 2001, three of the top five in Fortune’s list of “Top 100 Companies to Work for in America” where led by individuals regarded to be servant leaders.1 Others have tied the success of several large global companies such as Google and Microsoft directly to the practice of employee-orientated leadership.2

However, the latest indication that personal attention yields better results come from a completely different field (or pasture, to be more accurate). Research on more than 500 dairy farms in the United Kingdom showed that on farms where farmers thought it important “to know every animal in the herd” and where “cows were called by name”, the annual milk yield was 258 litres higher than on farms where this was not the case. Direct human contact and “personal attention” results in “happier” and more relaxed cows, which in turn stimulates milk production.3 So, while increased milk production may not be every leader’s primary objective, this does help make yet another case for leaders who care enough to dedicate time and energy to the needs and personal circumstances of those they’re leading!


1. Sendyaja, S. & Sarros, J. C. (2002). Servant Leadership – it’s Origin, Development and Application in Organizations. Journal of Leadership and Organization Studies, 2002 9(2).

2. Brown, K. D. (2007, February 3). Servant Leadership – A New Model for the 21st Century. Retrieved January 25, 2009, from http://ezinearticles.com/?Servant-Leadership-A-New-Model-For-The-21st-Century&id=441252

3. Bertenshaw, C. & Rowlinson, P. (2009). Exploring Stock Managers’ Perceptions of the Human – Animal Relationship on Dairy Farms and an Association with Milk Production. Anthrozoos, March 2009, 22 (1). pp. 59-69.


About Manie Bosman

Manie Bosman is Founder and CEO of the Strategic Leadership Institute. He is a leadership development consultant specializing in the emerging fields of neuroleadership and neurosafety. Based in Pretoria, South Africa, Manie has more than 20 years of international experience in cross-cultural interaction, diversity management, change management, public speaking, communication, corporate training and team development. He holds a Masters of Arts in Organizational Leadership and believes that effective leadership is the key determiner of success in any venture, group or organization.
This entry was posted in Communication, Leadership, Neuroleadership and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to What Leaders can Learn from Cow Names

  1. Having spent the better part of two years researching and writing about this analogy, I can vouch for your premise, and the linkage between factors that drive both animal and human behavior.

    Bill Catlette
    co-author, Contented Cows Give Better Milk

  2. Manie Bosman says:

    Thanks Bill, would love to know more about your work and the book. If you have related material or sources that can be used/applied in leadership development, I would really appreciate if you can direct me there or forward it to me.

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