Riding for the Brand: Living a Principled Life at Home and on the Range

A guest post by author, speaker, trainer, Jack Perry. He sent this to me after he heard that I spoke to the members of the NRBA on the topic of their personal brands.

“Riding for the brand” was the code of the Wild West. According to famed Western writer Louis L’Amour, the expression meant “loyalty to a man’s employer or the particular outfit he rode for.

” Today, most people think of a brand as a recognizable symbol burned onto the backsides of cattle. But in the Wild West, the actual expression of the brand was much more than just a mark to determine ownership of livestock. It was a symbol for those who lived and worked on the ranch—a visual representation of the values and principles they believed in.

The cowboy dedicated himself to the boss and to the group, to values like discipline, focus, honesty, respect, and teamwork. Cowboys defended the ranch they were a part of at all costs—as if it were their own—against those who encroached on the land, rustled cattle, attacked another cowboy’s reputation, or picked a fight with him.

Even if your life seems far removed from those who rode in the Wild West, the idea of riding for the brand can easily apply to your personal and professional lives and to your relationships with family and friends. Riding for the brand means loyalty, staying true to yourself and your beliefs, and complete commitment to your communities, cultures, and relationships.

Determine what brands you “ride for” by asking yourself what lines you will stand up to defend completely if anyone tries to cross them. When you look in the mirror, you’re looking at your own brand. What aspects of you and your beliefs make up your brand? When you think you’ve defined your brand, ask yourself: Can I live up to these standards and be a part of this brand every day? Can I communicate what this brand is to the rest of the world? Am I willing to be loyal at all costs?

Riding for Your Organization’s Brand

Do you know and believe in what your organization stands for? The cowboy way meant showing respect for the ranch’s brand as if the cattle, horses, and everything else on the ranch were your own. When you choose to work for an organization, you know its public brand, and you declare publicly that you ride for that brand.

If someone speaks ill of your organization or portrays it in a bad light, you must have the courage to stand up and defend the brand you have chosen to be a part of. You must be willing and able, at least publicly, to stand and defend it at all times, even if privately you are problem-solving among your fellow team members.

Great customer loyalty inevitably evolves from outstanding employee loyalty to the company and to one another. To ride for the brand, you must not think of your teammates as competitors. The cowboy way valued teamwork and considered the overall goal as everyone’s goal. Cowboys didn’t worry about how many steers another cowboy had to corral. They didn’t think: “I’m not going to bring in that stray because that’s not my job; it’s his, and it’ll look good for me if he’s shown to be less competent than I am.” All cowboys worked together to move the whole herd to its final destination.

If you discover you can no longer “ride” for your organization—perhaps it no longer meets the high expectations you set for yourself and others—you must have the courage to recognize that and move on to another “ranch” where you can be completely committed to their brand. If the new company understands the idea of riding for the brand, they will look at your performance under the last “trail boss,” so be sure your behavior and leave-taking follow the cowboy principles.

Riding for Your Groups’ Brand

While cowboys sometimes seemed like solitary figures riding off into the sunset, they belonged to many other groups and teams other than those they worked on. Like you, they were a part of families, had circles of friends, belonged to religious communities, and even took part in civic groups. Therefore, you can ride for the brand in all of these groups and more.

For example, if you are someone who rides for the brand of your country, you are loyal to it no matter what, believing passionately that it is “your country, right or wrong.” On an individual level, if you hear someone talking unflatteringly about a friend of yours, you’ve branded yourself by your association with that friend, and your loyalty requires you to make a public display of your affiliation with that “brand,” so you stand up to defend your friend’s honor or reputation. Furthermore, if you cannot stop a friend from making what you might consider to be a poor choice, you still support him or her and stick around in case you’re needed for a disaster clean-up!

Riding for Your Personal Brand

Core principles guided each cowboy’s life. They refused to compromise their high ideals, such as self-sacrifice, loyalty, and commitment, so they earned the respect of other people of character and considered this respect to be real success. Living your beliefs, values, and standards enables you to ride for your own brand even as you ride for your company’s and groups’ brands. Riding for your personal brand simply means being true to yourself, doing those things you believe to be right even when no one is looking.

When you have good character, your personal principles will lead you to defend what you feel is right, even when you or your beliefs are being attacked. If you “ride for” honesty, for example, you do the honest thing, always, even if there is no reward, and even if there is a “penalty.” When you find yourself in a moral “grey area,” such as discovering you’ve been undercharged on a bill, for example, or stumbling over an envelope full of cash on the sidewalk, you choose the response that is honest, true to yourself, and reflective of your personal integrity.

Send the “Bad Guys” off into the Sunset

What will “riding for the brand” ultimately do for you? What will you get out of living a principled life? At the very least, if you defend your brand at all times, you are certain to like who you see when you look in the mirror. Standing your ground for the people and ideas you believe in further strengthens your own character and serves as a model to others in your life, who will in turn live their lives based in strong values. Ultimately, when you ride for the brand, you begin to change the world from one where disloyalty and instant gratification are the order of the day to one where loyalty, honesty, commitment, and teamwork rule the range—Yes, the cowboy way.