The pigs are running the farm. So begins the story of Farmer Able. Everyone on his farm — people and animals alike — are downright downtrodden by him.

He’s overbearing and compulsively obsessed with profits and productivity. He’s a typical top-down, power-based manager, forever tallying production numbers in his well-worn ledgers. But the more he pushes the hoofs and horns and humans, the more they dig in their heels.

That is until one day when he hears a mysterious wind that whispers: “It’s not all about me.” Can he turn things around and begin attending to the needs of those on his farm, thus improving their attitudes and productivity?

The following is an excerpt from chapter 23 of Farmer Able.

Listening to be heard

Foreman Ryder remained sour to all this mutual give-and-give. He grew even more agitated. His do-what-I-say hounding was being replaced by what he saw as let-me-do-for-you hogwash — and heavens, did that chafe his chaps.

He always ballyhooed about production being down and the fields not getting planted. Yet when things started to turn around, he still bellowed. Oddly, the more this whorl of shared respect swirled up, the more Ryder spiraled down. He just didn’t get it. Losing his grip on those under him was causing him to lose his grip on himself.

Farmer Able kept trying to win him over, but the foreman couldn’t abide it. One day when Ryder brought Harry and the team up from the field, Farmer Able noticed their jaunty step that had started to emerge had been replaced by their old push-pull plodding. They came into the barn lot all lathered up and heads hanging.

Keen listening required to build trust

Farmer Able immediately knew that something was off. The combination of cleaned-out stalls, molasses-coated oats, and an un-cinched harness had created a bit of horse heaven. It had been working, but now the work was out of the horse.

Ryder complained that they’d only plowed half an acre that day. He was quick to point at what he saw was the blame: “You spoil a horse and it takes the giddy-up out of their go.” Farmer Able knew the unspoken intent of Ryder’s griping. “The whip’s not coming back out,” the farmer said.

“Hey, do you see me carrying a whip?” Ryder said with an air of insult. As Farmer Able unbuckled their harness, he paused. His anger swelled. “The trouble with you, Ryder, is you think there’s a lot of clod in this hopper.” And with that, Farmer Able yanked back the harness, revealing fresh whip marks.

Ryder had lied to him. The foreman lashed out at the farmer. “Those aren’t kid’s ponies or fancy buggy horses,” he said. “They’re work horses. And work they’ll do as long as I’m running things.”

Own your listening, your team will thank you

“Well that’s just the problem,” Farmer Able replied. “You can’t run things when you run over them. And I reckon it’s time you move along. Don’t let the barn door hit you on the way out.” Ryder turned on his heel and left, never to return.

Harry and the other horses stood whinnyless. Was this really happening? Finally, Harry simply nickered as he watched Ryder drive away: “You can lead some humans to water, but you can’t make them think.”

About that time Ernie came up from the field. He had the whip. Ryder had ditched it in a fencerow just before coming into the barn lot. Farmer Able took the whip and locked it in a large tack trunk. He pulled out some salve from the same trunk. As he rubbed salve on the horses, he said, “Some people might try to hide a whip, but they can’t hide the effect of it.”

Ernie, who was helping administer the balm, said, “Been better if Ryder would have whipped his outlook into shape.”

Art Barter believes everyone can be great, because everyone can serve. To teach about the power of servant leadership, Art started in his own backyard by rebuilding the culture of the manufacturing company he bought, Datron World Communications. Art took Datron’s traditional power-led model and turned it upside down and the result was the international radio manufacturer grew from a $10 million company to a $200 million company in six years. Fueled by his passion for servant leadership, Art created the Servant Leadership Institute (SLI).

To learn more about Art and his new Servant Leadership Journal, as well as his book on servant leadership, Farmer Able: A Fable About Servant Leadership Transforming Organizations And People From The Inside Out, endorsed by Stephen M.R. Covey, Ken Blanchard , and John C. Maxwell , visit

Originally published at on March 28, 2017.

Originally published at