I came across a quote by JP Warren

There are two kinds of leaders, cowboys and shepherds. Cowboys drive and shepherds lead.

Question 1: Why are cowboys called leaders in the very first clause because the later part of the quote don't prove them leaders.

Question 2: If cowboys drive livestock, they lead them, don't they? And if shepherds lead livestock, they drive them, don't they?

The meaning of lead and drive in this context is the same. Am I missing something?

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    I think your deduction "drive and lead are the same (in this context)" is not sound. To make the fallacy more obvious, I could say this, "There are two kinds of leaders. Those who do lead and those who do not." I think it's clear that do not lead and lead in this context do not have the same meaning. – Damkerng T. Jul 16 '14 at 9:59

Maybe what's meant here is that cowboys lead from behind, compelling the cattle to go before them, while shepherds go ahead themselves, and their sheep go after, following their example.

Thus a cowboy leader will rely on harsh methods to compel other people to execute tasks, while a shepherd leader will rely predominantly on inspiration, not force.

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    I'm speechless. However, cowboys generally lead the cows and other animals not specifically sheep. That's what I think but in any case, the explanation in this answer clarifies my doubts! – Maulik V Jul 16 '14 at 6:07
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    @MaulikV -- yes, it's a terrible proverb. It relies on fairly obscure cultural expectations of how different species of livestock are treated, and it implicitly disapproves of the cowboy style (the opposite of American cultural expectations, at least). For a better illustration of the same idea, see here. – Malvolio Jul 16 '14 at 16:45
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    Note that the term cowboy is (mostly) revered in American culture, as a symbol of ruggedness, independence, and manliness. In most of the world, in contrast, a "cowboy" is a loud, dirty, destructive lowlife who won't follow the rules, riding into town with sixguns blazing for the purpose of getting drunk and bedding a whore. A pilot or mariner who causes trouble for others by not conforming to the rules is often referred to as a cowboy. – Phil Perry Jul 16 '14 at 19:29
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    @Malvolio - I disagree that it's a "terrible proverb." It's merely an analogy, not a proverb; like any analogy, it works fine so long as you understand the cultural background – which may mean it's more suitable for a particular audience. King David wrote that the Lord's "rod and staff" brought comfort, which makes sense, seeing that the words came from someone who spent many days and nights as a shepherd, but often requires some additional clarification and interpretation for the 21st century reader who has only seen sheep at a county fair. That doesn't make David's words a terrible proverb. – J.R. Jul 17 '14 at 9:24
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    (cont.) Warren is a church pastor, so presumably he's speaking to members of the church, who are already familiar with analogies concerning sheep, from David and the Good Shepherd. I'd wager he's talking about leaders in the church, not leaders in the business world, and he's trying to say that church leaders need to be less like a cowboy and more like a shepherd. Considering most church workers are volunteers and not paid staff, that's probably true. I don't know if a church leader can effectively treat volunteers on Sunday the same way a boss treats employees Monday through Friday. – J.R. Jul 17 '14 at 9:29

Cowboys use intimidation and fear to get animals to go in the desired direction (think sharp cries, and the sound of whips cracking). The cattle run in front of them.

Sheep follow behind their shepherd with a spirit of trust.

Lead and drive and not the same in this context. One is done from the front, and the other is done from behind.

In the context of management styles, the quote is contrasting those who manage with a spirit of intimidation vs those who lead in a more gentler manner.

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  • I don't think you can whip cows. I mean, you can, but I don't think it will help. – Malvolio Jul 16 '14 at 16:46
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    Ever hear of a bullwhip? Driving cattle, whips can be used, but more often the cowboy on his horse blocks the cow from going where he doesn't want it to go. – Phil Perry Jul 16 '14 at 19:24
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    @Malvolio - I never said anything about whipping cows. I only mentioned the noise. – J.R. Jul 16 '14 at 21:20

boss and leader

in addition to the other answers, boss of course is the cowboy and leader is the shepherd

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Basically it illustrates the difference in two styles of leadership, one driving the team, using force, prodding, intimidation, another leading from the behind, not too high profile, but motivating the team to do well.

The Cowboy here is the high profile leader, who leads from the front, seeks to project himself on to the team. His style is often authoritarian, in fact to the extent of pissing off his employees. He gets his people to do things, using a mix of intimidation, force, domination.

The Shepherd on the other hand is more low key, he believes in guiding the team, allowing them to work at their own pace, giving them more freedom. He does not believe in hand holding, he believes in letting the team members take their own decisions, and giving guidance where necessary. But at the same time, he ensures that ultimately individual interests are reconciled with team interests. You rarely see the sheep going out of line, under the shepherd's guidance.

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  • That's not so :( – Maulik V Jul 16 '14 at 11:10
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    @Maulik - Strange. First you ask for help understanding a quote (which would imply you don't really understand it very well), but then you refute an answer, basically labeling it as wrong. How did you manage to acquire such expertise in a mere matter of hours? And what do you find erroneous in this answer? Personally, I think it's a pretty good answer that contains some very good differentiations. – J.R. Jul 16 '14 at 15:20
  • @J.R. -- I think he is talking about how cowboys and shepherds really do their jobs, not how the proverb is supposed to be interpreted. – Malvolio Jul 16 '14 at 16:47
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    @Malvolio - in the context of the O.P.'s question, I don't know how you can discuss one without discussing the other. – J.R. Jul 16 '14 at 21:21
  • @J.R. I had a problem with the position described in this answer that might have impact on the quote's overall meaning. Cows cannot be lead from the front. They are not sheep, which blindly follows the footsteps of the one walking ahead. Sheep going out of line is generally not possible (That's what they are infamous for) whether or not they are lead by shepherds. And the answer portrays cowboys stronger than shepherds which I'm not sure looking at other answers and some references as my homework. And I asked help understand the quote, I was not completely blank! :) – Maulik V Jul 17 '14 at 4:30

Cowboys ride horses. They sit on the horses and tell them where to go. A shepherd, not just tells the cattle where to go but also walks with them. A shepherd kind of leader works hard with his team. A cowboy kind of leader just tells his team what to do. But does not work hard himself. I think that's what it means.

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