John Dutton: Bunkhouse Leadership (Take some morals, leave some ethics)

John Dutton: Bunkhouse Leadership (Take some morals, leave some ethics)

by | Nov 8, 2021 | Business & Product | 0 comments

Spoiler alerts: I’ve been waiting *months* to make sure all of my favorite Duttons survived. The anticipation was real. I might be a little too invested in the life and/or death of a not-real family but I’m gonna forgive myself for that; I have my reasons and my quirks. Yellowstone (the TV show) strikes very close to home for me for some obvious reasons. My ranch is much smaller, a little younger, and nowhere near as nice. Plus, it’s not in Montana. But our family has scratched a living out of our few thousand acres for seven generations now, and Taylor Sheridan has created an all-too-real amplification of real life struggles that I can really, really identify with. Kevin Costner’s character hits so close to my heart because I miss my dad so much, and there are so many things about John Dutton that remind me of him.

So when John Dutton walked into the Bunk House on last night’s premier of Yellowstone Season 4, I saw my dad. And I saw an example of leadership that went straight to my heart. John thanked his men, and his gratitude was real. And it was one of the first things he did when he got home, after getting the sit-rep. He didn’t stay in bed wishing he didn’t hurt and giving himself time to recover from the comfort of bed; he simply couldn’t because it’s not who he is. (As soon as he was told to stay in bed I thought “yeah right; my dad didn’t stay in bed when he was injured” and yep sure enough, John did not stay in bed any longer than my dad!)

John got up, got dressed, and he went to his team. He didn’t send them a text message, or a gift basket, or give them a day off. He gave them his time and his gratitude in person. He sat with them and did something they wanted to do. He showed them his humanity. He was injured, but he was there with them because he appreciates them.

And they knew it was real. Although this situation was sudden (and ok let’s be honest, it was scripted), it was the product of a long history of leadership starting with John, but also with Rip. John’s authenticity and Rip’s absolute loyalty to John created an atmosphere of complete commitment to the Yellowstone ranch for The Bunkhouse men to rally around and work together to defend.

From Season 1, Episode 1 John Dutton has never asked his team to do anything he isn’t willing to do, and Kevin Costner pulls off the same air of total competency and unspoken authority that my dad did. When he leans over the fence, he brings the absolute confidence that he understands what’s going on, has total commitment to success, and calls the shots from experience.

You can see the parallels in business, especially startups. You have a founder/leader absolutely committed to a vision, who builds a team around the vision and also themselves. They aren’t there on a lark. They have skin in the game and a background to be respected.

The Duttons are extreme…because it’s good tv. But Bunkhouse Leadership is real and there are many more examples of real themes I could (and probably will) point to drawing parallels between scripted drama and real-life drama. There’s so much here to work with. I really love this show!

But first off, I think it’s important to draw a line between the morals and ethics portrayed on the show.

Yellowstone is full of complicated characters like the Duttons, Chief Rainwater, Caroline Warner (oh man is she going to be fun to watch!) and the like. What they do on TV has roots in real life, and it invites us to take an inventory of ourselves to find our own moral compass.

Real Life Morals vs Ethics

There’s a definition for morals, and a definition for ethics. Morals refer to guiding principles; ethics refers to rules and actions. To me the difference is internal vs external. What do you believe, regardless of what others may be saying? These are your morals. What are the rules you follow…whether they were created by others, or created by your self? These are your ethics.

And so I think it’s important to look at the morals underlying the drama of Yellowstone and let it inspire your heart with things like love of family, loyalty, leadership, authenticity, gratitude, sacrifice, work, respect for the earth and others, defending what is yours and finding a way to live together. These themes speak to my heart because they are important to me and influence my own moral compass. I take them to heart.

However, I reject some of the ethics at Yellowstone Ranch. It’s really good TV to watch Kayce exact revenge, and oh man that Beth really is the bigger bear. That woman is so complicated and I’m both inspired and horrified at the same time…but mostly inspired and I can’t stop watching her. I do not believe that their TV antics should be considered ethical. I do absolutely believe in John Dutton’s Bunkhouse leadership. The morality of standing together in defense when you are attacked, the grit it takes to be the kind of man worth not only taking a bullet for, but getting up each day to work for/with…these are inspirational and can be taken to heart. However I think we should leave some of the Bunkhouse ethics behind.

There are many lessons from Yellowstone we can bring back to our businesses, but I think the most important lesson of all is that balancing the needs of people, planet, and profit (the triple bottom line) should inspire us and shape both our morals and our ethics by showing us how not to be, while at the same time reinforcing what we believe.


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