Late at night, dead broke,
lost and alone. Ever been there? The address is Heartbreak
Hotel located down on Lonely Street. I had one last chance,
“I’ll try one more time,” I thought. I punched in the
number. On the second ring, he answered his own phone.
“Hello?” he said. I told him who I was, and after a few
stuttering and stammering minutes, finally I said, “I’m
failing. I’m told you could help me. Can you? Will you?”
And there was silence for a time. At last he said, “Yes, I
can and I will. But…there is one thing you must do.”
“And what would that be?” I asked.
“You have to listen,” he said.
Rebecca had her feet on
the dash, the horses were in the trailer, and we were on our
way. Headed across country, through Tennessee and the
Carolinas to see my old friend John. Bronc as he is known,
was waiting in the mountains with a pen full of steers, and
a promise to help me and my horses rope a little better. We
made Nashville by sundown of the first day, and felt good
about our progress until the right rear trailer tire decided
to give up the ghost in the middle of the late afternoon
We found an angel in a tire shop disguised as a fellow
named Bubba who after changing the tire in five minutes said
we owed him five bucks. I gave him twenty and we were on
our way. Same thing happened the next day in Bristol,
Tennessee - two blow-outs in two days - and can you believe
there was another angel working in a tire store there too?
They’re everywhere. This one was so helpful and kind,
Rebecca said, “While you’re at it, just put us four new ones
on there.” He did, and this time we made it to our
We sat in the cool of the evening, a welcome relief
from the searing heat of Oklahoma, and talked about old
times. As we made ready for bed, Bronc said,
“Tomorrow, we rope.” And I thought about the skill.
Something has been trying to tell me to do it for
most of my life, but since I didn’t have the skill, I
couldn’t hear. Mrs. Watts tried to tell me in the third
grade, mom and dad told me over and over I wasn’t doing it,
and how if I only would, life still wouldn’t be easy, but it
would be easi-er.
And Bronc sat on the fence for three days, and
watched me rope. He paid careful attention to the horses
and their movements, but mostly he watched me. I tried my
best to practice the skill, because I am learning if we can
develop this skill, we can progress more rapidly than with
most any other. True improvement comes from our development
of this particular skill. We can all do it, but we rarely
do it. We all have it, but rarely use it. After each run,
he talked and I practiced the skill. And as we took short
breaks, looking out over the mountains above the arena, I
felt grateful for my friend, Russ Donoghue, across the
country –sitting at the moment most likely somewhere in the
mountains of Utah.
Some time ago, I was sitting in my exhibit hall booth
in that state before a performance scheduled for the next
day. Old friends and customers came by and helped to not
only pass the time, but to brighten the day, and as we
conversed, I began to feel truly blessed by old memories and
friends. I noticed some time along about mid-day one
particular subject seemed to crop up over and over with each
successive guest. As I talked with my friends – sooner or
later – most all would mention Russ Donoghue. Dale Pierson
talked about him, Dan Fleming, Neil Forster, Curtis, and
Tyler Pugsley talked about him, and Shannon, and everyone it
seemed had something to say about Russ Donoghue. About his
style, his care and concern for people, what an effective
CEO he was, they talked about his ability to motivate
others, to elicit high productivity, what a good
conversationalist he was, and on and on. Naturally, as I am
wont to do, I sought out Russ for an interview…
“I don’t mean to embarrass you,” I began, “but you seem
to have an extraordinary ability to reach people. That’s a
wonderful gift you know.”
“Yes,” he answered simply, and smiled.
I’ve known Russ a long time, and he knows that whenever
I encounter any man or woman who can reach kids, adults or
horses, it won’t be long until I have them in the corner
over a cup of coffee interviewing them and seeking the
answer to one question…and that question is “How do you
And so that question was posed to Russ, “To
what do you attribute your ability to reach others?” I
Russ looked off for a moment, and he said, “That is my
life’s work, and thank you for the compliment. My success
can be attributed to one thing.”
“Yes…Yes?” I said impatiently, with my pen ready.
“I fight one urge all day long. Every day of my
working life, I constantly fight one urge.”
“You…you fight an “urge?” I said confused. “And what
is this “urge” you fight?” I asked.
“The urge to talk,” he answered.
I ‘bout fell off my stool. I started laughing so
hard. I loved this man, and instantly knew why so many
others did. And when he said those words, I got it. One of
the most important keys to our success seeped way down into
Russ was telling me his ability to lead was not about his
technical knowledge, not about formulas, not about higher
math or abstract management theory, but about his struggle
to listen. Knowing he had cracked me up with that
sparkling little piece of wit and wisdom, he leaned over me
down on the floor laughing, and said, “When I’m successful
at fighting that urge to talk, I do pretty well!”
And Bronc sat on the fence for three days, and he
watched me rope. He paid careful attention to the horses
and their movements, but mostly he watched me.
I had thousands of questions, but now I knew they were
relatively unimportant. So, instead of telling him why
something he suggested wouldn’t work for me, or how I had
tried that before without success, or talking at all - I
fought the urge - and I practiced the skill.
“Ride your horse,” he would say. “You’re not riding
your horse – you’re trying to rope.”
“But what? You can’t rope the steer if he’s fifty feet
from you. Ride your horse.
Get to the spot, then you can rope.”
And I fought the urge.
“Throw your rope,” he barked. “That loop wouldn’t hurt
a chicken’s ear. When you reach that spot…ROPE! Commit,
throw it like you mean it, with authority.”
“Nothing,” I would say, and I practiced the skill.
At the end of three days, he sat on the fence. “Do you
realize you have made tremendous improvement here?” he
“No, it all seems like so much to process.” I said.
“Once you get home and have a chance to repeat these
movements over time, they will begin to feel more like part
of you – more natural.”
Fishing for a compliment about my roping, I said, “Did
you like any thing I did here?”
“Yes,” he answered. “You listened well. If we
want to do better in any thing, that’s the key you know.”
“Yes,” I said. “I’m learning about that.”
And we headed home. ‘Becca sleeping over in the seat,
and I’m driving along thinking about my old friend John.
Bronc has helped me so much in life. Driving along, big
mountains on either side, I thought about Joe Charbonneau
and that lonely night more than ten years ago now. No hope,
lost and alone. “Can you help me?” I had asked. “Will
“Yes,” he said. “I can and I will. But there is one
thing you must do.”
“And what is that?” I asked.
“There is an old hymn…it’s called “In The Garden.”
“Yes,” I said. “I’m familiar with it.”
“There is a line in that hymn that says, ‘When the
Master speaks, the birds hush their singing.”
“Yes, I remember,” I said.
“Good. That would be a good thing for you to remember
while I’m talking.” And Mr. Joe changed my life.
At the close of an interview
with Mother Teresa, Dan Rather asked, “And what do you do
“What do I do all day?” asked the Reverend Mother.
“Yes, what do you actually do all day?”
“Oh, I’m like Paul,” she said. “I pray all day. I pray
constantly without ceasing.”
Somewhat surprised, Rather asked, “And what do you say
when you pray?”
“Say?” she said, “I don’t say anything. I just
Laughing now, Rather asked, “And what does God say back
And the old woman’s face broke into a smile. Leaning
over she whispered,
“Oh, He doesn’t say anything. He just listens.”
Michael's latest release, Reflections Of A Cowboy, is
currently available in audio book form. The two volume set
consists of articles, essays and excerpts from radio
performances about good people and good horses in the life
of an Oklahoma cowboy. Approximately 8 hours in length.
Reflections Of A Cowboy in printed form is scheduled for
release in the summer of 2005. Order from Michael's website.