The train metaphor can provide great learning insight for business leaders as long as the metaphor includes a cow catcher!. Let’s consider the many different parts of the train. The steam locomotive is the leadership team. It pulls the cars of the business along the track, hopefully in an effective and efficient manner, following a well prescribes action plan. The engineer knows where it is going and how to get there. The engine has the right amount of power to pull all the cars attached to it, in an orderly manner.
Attached to the engine in second place is the coal car that provides the fuel to be fed into the engine so that it can operate. The coal car represents all the resources needed to keep the business functioning properly. Without the proper resources and the proper amounts, the locomotive will fail to operate. The result? It becomes stuck on the track.
Then, we have the cars that carry the goods. What is the company selling? What are its services? How unique are its products? What kinds of staff members and how many are needed? The type of products and services determines what kind of car to use; tank, box or flat. Such different types of cars represent the specializing that needs to be considered. In other words, leaders must consider how to package and market various items, and hire the right people to be placed in the right jobs and in the right positions.
Finally, there comes the caboose! Every train needs a caboose! These are the people who evaluate the efficiency of the train, the “bean counters” who can advise the leaders if the business is making money or not. They evaluate the team workers and the jobs they accomplish to make certain all is working well. They monitor the functionality of the train to assure all is running smoothly. This is a way to keep the business on track.
All of these various cars are important and needed. But none of these are the most important part of the train. The most vital part of the train is the cow catcher! The cow catcher was placed on a steam locomotive to assure that the track was clear, so the train could safely move forward. In those early days, it was not uncommon for cattle that freely ranged over the land to find their way onto the track and cause some serious train wrecks resulting in thousands of dollars of damage. The cow catcher, shaped as a shallow V shaped wedge, could clear any obstacles that may litter the train track.
In business, the cow catcher is the leader who is creative, forward looking, aware of the potential of the business, and can think of unique ways to grow it. This person can develop new revenue streams because they are aware of the talents and strengths of the company and its employees. They can see opportunities others cannot. They can visualize threats to the operation of the business and take steps to eliminate or minimize them. These are unique individuals, who when found need to be nurtured and highly valued. The question is, “As the business leader, are you a cow catcher?”