What I Learned About a Cow Named Clarice


What follows is an excerpt from Farmer Able, a new leadership fable that speaks to the heart of servant leadership. We invite you to see what’s happening down on the farm.

That’s what Farmer Able grumbled to himself and even at times bellowed out loud. This was the last thing any visitor might notice. After all, the pigs mostly laid in the shade doing nothing, so how could those lazy animals be running anything?

The only initiative they demonstrated was during feeding time. Then they sprang from their mud hole and oinked and squealed feverishly. Being fed by Farmer Able was all they were interested in. Just give them their slop and they were happy.

Clarice the cow saw how the pigs behaved. She thought, “Why those pigs do nothing and they still get fed. I have to go out into the pasture and work for my food. I have to eat grass and chew it over and over again. Then after all that cud chewing, I have to give over my milk freely!”

Every day Clarice grew ever more resentful, even jealous, that the pigs just lay there in their mud holes. As she chewed and chewed, each chew made her angrier. She thought, “I’m doing something.” Chew, chew, chew. “They’re doing nothing.” Chew, chew, chew. “I’m doing something.” Chew, chew, chew. “They’re doing nothing.” Chew, chew, chew.

And on and on her resentment grew.

Because of her great consternation over those pigs, she decided not to chew so much by eating less grass, which is a strange thing because she liked grass.  You could say she developed a cud-chewing disorder—a tick in her little cow mind. She thought smaller and smaller, and in her small thinking she produced less and less, which was really quite an “accomplishment” as far as she saw things.


She wanted to produce as little as those lazy pigs. Less was more to Clarice. She might have four stomachs, but darn if she was going to use them to their fullest.Farmer Able had a little book he kept in the pocket of his bib overalls. He weighed each cow’s milk every day and recorded it in that little book. He began to notice that Clarice was producing less. Clarice heard him muttering as he left the milk house, “Confounded cow. Her numbers are down. What is her problem?”

The accusation, “What is her problem?” made Clarice even madder. Even if it was her problem, she wasn’t hearing any of that. She developed an “I’ll-show-you” mentality. “I bring four stomachs to this enterprise and a lot of chewing to boot. Doesn’t he know that? If he thinks I’m not producing enough, I’ll produce even less and then let’s see what he thinks.”

Of course she didn’t say this out loud. It was felt. The other cows picked it up. They experienced Clarice’s irritation. They had to live and chew in the pasture with this very unhappy cow.

One young heifer named Bridgette tried to cheer her up. But even the cheering made Clarice angrier—because cheering up means you have a problem. And as noted, Clarice hadn’t said anything, so she didn’t like any fingers or hoofs for that matter pointed her way.

This, too, was a peculiar thing because Clarice had developed her own hoof-pointing. But she couldn’t see it. It’s the nature of hoof-pointing that the pointer is the last one to see it.

Having heard Farmer Able bellow about the pigs, she finally echoed this sentiment. “It’s all on account of those pigs,” is how she put it. “Those lazy pigs are getting away with doing nothing. Why, if I didn’t have to walk by them every day, I wouldn’t feel the way I do.”


She also hoof-pointed at Farmer Able for his unkindly comments. He, too, was a major source of her rage. In fact, she came to think that her drop in milk production was entirely the pigs’ and the farmer’s fault. And now she could add Bridgette to that list as well. “I don’t need any cow cheering me up because I’m not the one with the problem. She should look at herself. Her cheerfulness is because of her own set of problems that she’s trying to overcome. And I’ll have none of it.”

So Clarice left the milk barn even more determined to eat and chew less. She missed the eating and chewing because that’s what cows do best. Her four stomachs were definitely not full. Not only did this make her extremely hungry, but in addition, the whole thing gave her a sour stomach times four. However, that didn’t matter. She was willing to put up with these “sacrifices” because she felt Farmer Able was doing her a great disservice. He wasn’t listening. His grumbling and complaining had made him deaf to her moos. In fact, she came to think he didn’t care for her at all.

“It’s all about me,” was how she thought of his attitude. The poor cow didn’t realize that same sour outlook had infected her.

After reading this much of the story, I’m sure you’re concerned about poor old Clarice. Will Farmer Able wake up and realize Clarice and the other animals need a real leader who speaks their language? Let’s take a look at four themes going on here and how a servant leader might combat Clarice’s cud chewing disorder.

Trouble can start in our businesses and even our personal lives when we start to compare. Comparison leads to resentment, resentment to finger-pointing (or in this case, hoof-pointing) and retaliation. And retaliation leads to lack of results.

1. Comparison. News flash! There will always be people who have it better than you. They will appear to have more money, dress better, be smarter or cuter, or have a better position than you do. Clarice looks at the pigs and only sees them lying around. She doesn’t see the end result…the bacon in the pan. The pigs are committed, to quote an old joke. As a servant leader, we don’t want our employees to be jealous or envious, so it will benefit the whole team to discuss these issues. Help your team see all sides of their jobs and others’ roles.

2. Resentment. The byproduct of comparison is resentment, but we’ve found it’s hard to resent someone you know well. In a servant-led environment, the leader provides opportunities for the team to share their stories with one another—not just stories of the good times, but of challenging times as well (with discretion). This is also a good chance to share the challenges involved with performing all the various roles within the team.

3. Hoof-pointing (or for you city folk, finger-pointing). Finger-pointing is one of the children of resentment. It’s going on to one extent or another in every organization. A servant leader accepts responsibility for his part in every encounter or transaction. He doesn’t lay the blame at the feet of anyone, but he is also not a doormat. In other words, he speaks truthfully about the business situation, not looking to blame anyone. We’ve seen this work successfully when people adopt the mindset of reviewing their actions first before they look to anyone else.

4. Retaliation. Another child of resentment that’s rampant is retaliation. In our story, Clarice simply decides to eat less so she’ll produce less milk. She wants to teach the farmer a lesson. In a business setting, you may decide to slow down your actions, or hold tight to some information that might help others do their jobs. By eliminating instances of comparison, resentment and finger-pointing, a servant leader will find the need for retaliation has disappeared.

We invite your comments regarding comparison, resentment, finger pointing and retaliation in the workplace.

Clarice’s story is only the beginning of the servant leadership insights you’ll find in the pages of Farmer Able. To join the adventure and the conversation, learn more at www.farmerable.com.

Carol Malinski

Director of Content and Curriculum