The Code of the West

By now, most of you know that I am a proud native Texan which means I have a strong affinity for anything to do with cowboys—art, history, ranching, rodeos, music, poetry, jewelry, and just Western culture in general.  Because of this, I’ve known about the Code of the West for a long time but was recently reminded of it by a colleague at an event for which I was a speaker.

It made me think about its application in life and business so I looked them up again and did a little research.

The Code of the West:

  1. Live each day with courage
  2. Take pride in your work
  3. Always finish what you start
  4. Do what has to be done
  5. Be tough, but fair
  6. When you make a promise, keep it
  7. Ride for the brand
  8. Talk less and say more
  9. Remember that some things aren’t for sale
  10. Know where to draw the line

This code was first chronicled by the famous western writer, Zane Grey, in his 1934 novel, The Code of the West; however, no “written” code ever actually existed. But, the hardy pioneers who lived in the West felt bound by these unwritten rules that centered on integrity, hard work, self-reliance, loyalty, and respect.

Today, we can still see the wisdom in not only the actual Code of the West but in the idea of it. In 2010, the state of Wyoming signed an act into law declaring “The Code of the West” as the official state code and was the first state to adopt a code of ethics. There is also a Wyoming Youth Initiative through the Wyoming Boys and Girls Club, whose sole objective is to teach this code to young people.

In my research, I came across this TEDx talk by a high school teacher on using the Code of the West (sometimes referred to as Cowboy Ethics) in the classroom. In it, she shares the idea of each student creating their own 11th code which is personal for them and their own lives. My favorite 11th code was, “breathe in problems and breathe out solutions.”

And it made me think… What would happen if teams created their own Code of Ethics or even adopted the Code of the West and added their own 11th code specific to their business? What would it be like to take one code per month and dissect it with your team as to what it means, how it works, and what the practical applications of it would be in your business? Taking pride in our work, finishing what we start, and riding for the brand are all critically important principles with long-reaching impacts.

This week, consider using the Code of the West to stimulate rich conversations about business ethics within your practice or professional team. Or, consider creating your own. Ask what your 11th code could be or invite each team member to write and claim their own within the team.

Aligning a team around a common code of ethics and behaviors is an excellent way to communicate expectations and produce a sense of pride and ownership.

“A man’s got to have a code, a creed to live by, no matter his job.”

~ John Wayne


  1. I have goosebumps! I love this message. I printed it and added it to my favorites and will be sharing this with anyone who will listen. If we all lived by this image what kind of home life, work life, social life… we would have! Thank you again for sharing such valuable content.
    I accept the challenge of creating my #11: Don’t wait for someone to set you for success

    1. Wonderful, Amanda! So glad it resonated so deeply with you. And I LOVE your 11th code!

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