Leadership Lessons from the Jungle Cows of Costa Rica

Zach Hughes
3 min readSep 8


I just got back from a two-week vacation with my family and another family that we are close friends with. There were 13 of us in all, exploring the beauty of Costa Rica.

Early in the trip, I earned the nickname, “Nature Guide.” When we went on hikes in the jungle, I naturally looked at the map, figured out the path, and pointed out interesting flora and fauna along the way. No one asked me to do that. It just worked out that way.

On one such trip, I was pointing out some interesting orchids, only to realize that I was completely alone. I quickly retraced my steps and found the group enamored with the sighting of cows.

Cows?!? We have plenty of cows back in Minnesota. Sure, these cows are in the jungle, but they are just cows. I was here to see exotic sloths, monkeys, iguanas, toucans, and pretty much anything that wasn’t a cow.

That’s when this classic leadership quote from John Maxwell hit me:

“If you think you’re leading but no one is following, then you are only taking a walk.”

I was taking a walk in the jungle in Costa Rica, all by myself. Fortunately, it only took me a few seconds to realize it.

Back at work

Rested, relaxed, and ready, I’m back at work this week. While I could share pictures and travel highlights, I’ll use this article to expound upon this leadership lesson, applied to the day job.

If you’re like me, no one needs to ask you to lead. Because of your gifting, drive, and skills, you naturally gravitate towards leadership roles, formal and informal. You might even pick up a nickname or two. I’ve been given countless nicknames over the years. “Nature Guide” is one of the kinder ones.

Leading is great, but it’s completely worthless without the willing participation of followers. Willing participation is key. At work, I can usually tell if I have the engaged hearts and minds of my team, or if I just have their obedience.

Taking a walk?

Sometimes, every one of us goes for a walk by ourselves when think we are leading. It happens. That doesn’t make you a bad leader.

You just need to realize it quickly and retrace your steps. Meet people where they are at, then move forward from there.

Jungle cows

For the rest of the trip, I was sure to stop and point out all the jungle cows we came across. There were plenty. It didn’t matter to me personally, but it mattered a lot to me that all 13 of us had an amazing experience.

What are the jungle cows in your area? Is there anything important to your team that you find completely worthless? Make time for it. Do that, and you’ll find yourself taking fewer walks alone in the jungle.

Read this article on my blog site or listen to it on my podcast🎙️



Zach Hughes

Technology Leader at CHS. Passionate about leadership and innovation. Posts are my own.