Cowgirl Communications
by Katie Dressler
Chief Officer of Member Engagement

As Father’s Day is just around the corner, I take a step back to reminisce about how most of our Father’s Days were spent – at a rodeo. Yes, we’d travel to Bowman, ND to watch our older cousins compete in the State High School Rodeo Finals, or when we were old enough, my brother and I would be competing ourselves. Then, the last few years, my parents would be gone on Father’s Day to watch my brother compete at the National College Rodeo Finals in Wyoming. Rodeo has been a big part of Father’s Day for our family, and for my cowboy dad.

It goes without saying, some of the best men I know and have had the privilege of knowing are cowboys: My grandpas, uncles, cousins, neighbors and most importantly my dad, brother and fiancé. Yes, my heroes have always been cowboys. This Father’s Day, I want to share ten quick principles, from James P. Owen’s book “Cowboy Ethics: What Business Leaders Can Learn from the Code of the West.” These Code of the West principles, are ones I learned from my dad, Kelly, so it’s only fitting to share in honor of him.

1. Live Each Day with Courage: There’s a lot of things in life that takes courage. Speaking up and saying something when you know it isn’t right or asking for a raise, or even like me when I was a kid, as my parents put me on my trusty paint pony and said not to be scared as I ran through the pole pattern.  Whether you are starting your own business or have been in the credit union industry for years, opportunities are always appearing. What matters is whether you rise to the challenge and take those risky moves. Step outside your comfort zone, expand into new markets or try a new marketing strategy. Don’t let fear get in the way!

2. Take Pride in Your Work: Anything worth doing, is worth doing well. Growing up, my dad didn’t let us slack off. There were square bales to be hauled, fence to be fixed, a yard to be mowed, horses to ride, cows to be worked, and the list goes on. We were taught to take pride in our work, and do the best we could in every task we face. If you’re not doing your best, then you’re operating at a lower level. You’re compromising your standards, and setting yourself up to accept substandard performances.  

3. Always Finish What You Start: I’ve said it before, but my dad enjoys playing a good game of cards. But, in life, you can’t choose the hand you’re given. We’re all faced with obstacles, but you can’t quit half way through. Cowboys taught us, you must keep working hard and not give up. A few weeks ago, after the big storm hit, the unbranded cows got in the same pasture with the branded cow/calf pairs. It was a mess to say the least. I went home to help, but unfortunately the 35-mph wind, didn’t make sorting easy on us. We struggled and had times of frustration when the cows didn’t want to pair up and move, you couldn’t hear anything because it was so windy, and cold too. Despite frustration, we all kept working together to get the job done, because we knew it had to be. Same goes at your credit union, no matter what happens, or the level of frustration you might have, always finish the job you started.

4. Do What Has to be Done: It’s not always easy to do the right thing, but no one said it would be. My dad will often say that he competed against some really tough cowboys when he rodeoed, and it wasn’t easy. But if he hadn’t challenged himself, he wouldn’t have ever tried and never would have gained lifelong friends and memories in the process of his rodeo career. In ranching, dad often reminds me that you do what has to be done, no matter what the weather conditions, be it twenty below or a hundred above, your job is to take care of your cattle herd. No matter how you feel that day, get up, show up and do what has to be done.

5. Be Tough, But Fair: The golden rule we all learned as kids from our parents: Don’t do to others what you wouldn’t want done to you. Treat others fairly and if you wouldn’t want to be treated that way, it’s probably not a good action to take. When you run into trouble on a ranch, the only people who may be able to help are your family and friends, so you have to treat them fairly and respectfully. Same thing goes for work; you never know who your next business partner or member might be.

6. When You Make a Promise, Keep It: It’s safe to say, cowboys believe in honesty and integrity. Those are probably the two values they hold the highest. That being said, when you make a promise you’re to keep it. After all, you’re only as good as your word. People want someone they can trust and count on. It’s important to have integrity, even if others around you don’t. On a ranch, you have to trust people and they have to trust you. That’s how it was and still is. I believe that credit unions are the same. We make a promise to our co-workers, we need to keep it. We make a promise to our members to help them become more financially successful, and we should keep it and they make a promise to us to make their payments on time, and we hope they keep it. It doesn’t always work that way, as we all know, but the more integrity you have, the better off you’ll be.

7. Ride for the Brand: The brand is a ranch’s trademark. It represents the pride, sweat, tears, suffering, hard work and dedication of the family who owns that brand and is proud enough to put on their cattle. When you ride for the brand, you don’t just work for a paycheck, you work for a passion, a way of life, and to continually better that way of life, no matter how hard it may be. For our family and my dad, this is especially important. Ranching isn’t easy. Our brand is the FO, started by my Great-Great Grandpa, Frank Osterwind. So, in business terms, if you want to have successful employees, ask yourself, do they ride for the brand? Do they embody the values that you run your business on? If so, great. If not, look for ways to help encourage this loyalty and commitment to your organization. Do your leaders walk the talk, and bosses talk the walk? Leadership can drive the culture and help more employees ride for the brand.

8. Talk Less and Say More: This is probably one of the oldest lessons I’ve learned from Cowboys including my dad, brother and fiancé who all fit into this category. They all are quiet guys, but those who will listen. I often ask one of them, “Why aren’t you saying anything?” The response usually is, “I was listening.” No, they don’t say much in words, but by listening, they say more. As the world’s attention span gets shorter, we need to capture our audience quicker and more efficiently. Communicating is such an important tool, but that doesn’t mean you need to talk constantly. Use your non-verbal skills, and open your ears to listen more. As a CEO or manager, you reserve the right to make the big decisions, but it’s still really important to genuinely listen to your staff, and ask for their input when taking on big projects. That’s why you hired these individuals to help make your organization smoothly. Sometimes we don’t always hear what we want, and want to argue our point, but this is where the lesson of “Talking less and saying more” comes into place. While you don’t have to agree with everything, it’s important to learn to be respectful and listen to others. Finally, my mom and dad both used to tell me, if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all. And when all else fails, remember, actions speak louder than words.

9. Remember That Some Things Aren’t for Sale: This may be the one lesson that sticks with me the most. My dad taught me, that some things in life simply can’t be bought. You can’t buy hard work. You can’t buy honesty. You can’t buy the feeling of pride you get when you win your first check off that young horse you trained on your own; the feeling when you see a newborn calf running across the pasture; or that feeling you get when you ride across the pasture moving cows on branding day with all your family and neighbors. The same can be said in our office, you can’t buy the feeling you get when you help a young adult get their first car loan, or a newly married couple afford their first house. The older I get, it seems as if time passes by more quickly than ever. I now realize that there are so many things that dad enjoys, that I too enjoy, like listening to Roger Miller and the Beach Boys; like watching bronc riding at rodeos; and watching reruns of Andy Griffith with him. The point is, these memories and valuable time we can spend together can never be bought. The best “things” in life, aren’t things, they are memories and the time we have with others. Don’t forget to be thankful for these life moments, as they go by quickly.

10. Know Where to Draw the Line: In life there’s a right and wrong, no in-between grey area. Doing the right thing this time and every time, is not easy. What’s easier, is for us to slip up and forget where the line is. At the end of the day, when you’re deciding between right and wrong, it’s important to remember, your actions reflect your character.

As I’ve said before, the number of lessons I’ve learned from both my parents is endless. Words aren’t enough to describe my appreciation to them both, but since Father’s Day is just a few days away, especially to my cowboy dad- Thank you for taking time to dance with me when the Beach Boys are played at weddings, your rodeo stories that make me laugh, the Code of the West lessons you’ve taught me, and simply for all you’ve done. Some heroes wear capes, but mine wears cowboy boots.

Happy Father’s Day to my cowboy dad, Kelly, to my soon to be cowboy father-in-law, Nick and all the dad’s out there. I hope you have a wonderful day, making memories with your family. 



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