“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

If you’ve been on a farm you will have noticed cow paths that zigzag across the land. These cow paths are created by cows. Cows like us happen to be creatures of habit, when one cow starts to walk across the meadow a second one follows, a third and soon thereafter the rest follow. After a short while, the cows have created a cow path, a well-worn route from one point to another. One of the most noticeable things about cow paths, is that they zigzag and twist across the land, often going nowhere in particular. The reason for this is that cows like to keep their heads down when they walk, looking for blades of grass to eat.

The interesting thing about cow paths is a that once a cow path has been created to get from one place to another, the cows will continue to follow the cow path without question. No cow is ever smart or courageous enough to try a new, potentially faster and more efficient way to the same destination again. They will continue to blindly follow the same route time and time again!

Cow Path

One day thru the primeval wood
A calf walked home, as good calves should,
But made a trail all bent askew,
A crooked trail, as all calves do.
Since then three hundred years have fled,
And I infer, the calf is dead;
But still behind he left his trail,
And thereon hangs my mortal tale.

The trail was taken up next day
By a lone dog that passed that way,
And then a wise bell-weather sheep
Sliding into a rut now deep,
Pursued that trail over hill and glade
Thru those old woods a path was made.

And many men wound in and out,
And dodged and turned and bent about,
and uttered words of righteous wrath
Because “twas such a crooked path”
But still they follow-do not laugh-
The first migrations of that calf.

The forest became a lane
That bent and turned and turned again;
This crooked lane became a road
where many a poor horse with his load
Toiled on beneath the burning sun,
And travelled some three miles in one.

The years passed on in swiftness fleet,
The village road became a street,
And this, before the men were aware,
A city’s crowded thoroughfare.

And soon a central street was this
In a renowned metropolis;
And men two centuries and a half
Followed the wanderings of this calf.

Each day a hundred thousand strong
Followed this zigzag calf along;
And over his crooked journey went
The traffic of a continent.

A hundred thousand men were led
By one poor calf, three centuries dead.
For just such reverence is lent
To well established precedent.

A moral lesson this might teach
Were I ordained and called to preach.

For men are prone to go it blind
Along the calf paths of the mind;
And work away from sun to sun
To do what other men have done.

Sam Walter Foss

Leadership Insight

Leaders by definition choose not to follow the well trodden cow paths of life. Instead they choose to blaze new paths, to pioneer and innovate, to do different things in different ways. If you’re following the herd through the cow paths of life, you’re not leading!

“If you don’t design your own life plan, chances are you’ll fall into someone else’s plan. And guess what they have planned for you? Not much.” – Jim Rohn


Reflect on your own life:

  • Are you blindly following well-worn cow paths left by others?
  • Are you blazing your own path?
  • What steps do you need to take to blaze a new trail?