I saw Larry the cowboy again this last week. He attends my church, so I usually see him on Sundays. But seeing him this time reminded me of some more lessons he shared with me on horsemanship, and leadership.
He told me that horses, like people, need a few things to be effective companions and good workers.
Security. A safe place. Somewhere they can be comfortable and not feel harassed or in danger.
Friendship. Someone to talk to and get to know outside of the professional sphere.
A Leader. Not being afraid of confrontation. Knowing where you want to go and sharing that.
He also described one way he uses Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits in leading and rehabilitating his horses. He told me that he never appreciated the Seven Habits until he thought one day about his horses and how he could use it with them.
He said to First Seek to Understand. Before acting on a certain behavior, find out why, or what is causing the behavior. And then you can address the source, and not just the symptom.
Lastly, he said something that showed to me his passion for his profession. He said that a horse and a man are the ultimate team. They were meant to work together. They complement each other’s strengths and buoy up the weaknesses.
In summary, I learned from him that if I can provide security, friendship and be a leader, my team will be happy. If I seek to understand before I intervene, I will more likely help than hurt. And if the right team comes together, they can be…
I met a horse whisperer tonight.
I have actually known him for years, but had never really talked to him about what he does and how he does it.
We were at a social function and I was standing there, with Larry the cowboy, chatting about nothing in particular. Then I asked him about his work.
His eyes lit up and he talked non stop about his passion and his work with animals and people for 30 minutes at least. He told me things about horses and leading them that I had learned elsewhere about leadership in general. In fact, he uses them to rehabilitate people who are challenged in life for one reason or another. He teaches them to develop a healthy relationship with a horse in a day, and then they can take those lessons and use them with people for the rest of their lives.
Three of the leadership lessons I learned from him tonight are:
1) Look the horse in the eye. You have to build a relationship of trust with the animal, and the eye is the portal to trust.
2) Become the horse’s friend. Exude positive energy. Be positive in your interactions. Smile, laugh, praise often, and reward positive responses.
3) Have boundaries. Don’t let the horse be too familiar. Draw a line and let them know you are still their leader and need respect.
Now I know most leaders don’t lead animals, but lead humans. There is a difference. But I had never thought of the similarities before now.
As Larry was passionately describing his philosophy, I kept thinking how much he loves his work, and how he helps horses and their owners with his teaching. The more he told me, the more I learned about horses and about leadership.
Maybe we’re not so different after all.
How can you apply these lessons to those you lead?
I had to help a staff member change jobs a few months ago. I had to do it because they didn’t do the work I needed them to do. I know that I probably was at fault partly for hiring them in the first place, and also for not communicating with them effectively. But they also couldn’t do the required work, like our team needed.
In ninth grade, I had a great geography teacher, Ms. Uribe. At the first of the year, we drew a map of the United States free hand. After our first semester, we had to draw another map. Once I had learned the names of the details of the states, I could draw so many more specifics. Because I knew the names of the peninsulas, lakes, rivers and cities, I could name and draw them all on the map.
What would your team members’ maps look like, if they had to draw the “map” of their jobs?
I had to face that question a few months ago, when I learned about KRA’s from Chris LoCurto and Dave Ramsey. A KRA is a Key Result Area. They teach that it is the scoreboard, it’s how a team member knows he’s winning.
I asked each of my team members what they thought their goals were for their job. we compared their answers to what I had planned for them in their position. Sometimes they matched up, and other times there was a gap in understanding.
When we filled in some of the missing pieces, and gave our team a goalpost to shoot for, things felt so much better in the office. There had not been conflict directly, but there was definitely confusion. Now that has been minimized dramatically.
The best thing about it was the clarity we all had about our goals. The “map” we drew together with the KRAs is going to lead our team to our goals. And keep us from going crazy at the same time.
Do you use job descriptions, or KRAs on your team? If not, what do you use and why?
I watched the Hatfield and McCoy miniseries this weekend and was disturbed by the events portrayed. I had heard of their feud, but I hadn’t learned much about them.
These feuding families lived in West Virginia and Kentucky in the 1800’s. their feud lasted for almost 50 years. So many unnecessary deaths resulted.
The patriarchs and leaders of the families were ultimately responsible for this feud because of decisions they made. Two major factors that I observed in my brief study of their fight were:
2) Lack of Communication
The leaders of the families were too proud to forgive. They were too proud to ask for forgiveness when they made a mistake. This pride led to deaths on both sides. They were too proud to admit they were wrong, and to appear weak to the other family.
On the side of communication, their pride played a role here too. If they would have humbled themselves to explain their positions, if they would have communicated what was happening, they may have been able to avoid some of the bloodshed. For instance, one of the fathers, Anse Hatfield, took his son out “fishing” and he fully intended on killing him because he thought his son was spying for the McCoys. He didn’t, it ended up being a miscommunication, but still, the thought that he could even go to that point made me think hard. I thought, how clearly do I share information with others. The stakes were high back then, and problems arose because they didn’t communicate.
I know I have let myself get defensive (or prideful) when receiving criticism. I immediately try to explain why I did something, even if, after looking back, it was wrong. My first instinct is to defend myself, “How could I make a mistake?” That’s something I have to overcome for sure.
I have been taught to over-communicate. When in doubt, I try to share more information with my team. They may be able to help solve a problem I’m facing. I have a tendency to keep things to myself for the most part, so this takes some effort for me. I have found when I try to over-communicate, usually, it ends up being just enough info for people.
I have had feuds in my office due to pride or low levels of communication. It has gotten pretty ugly at certain times, enough that once there was a judge involved and surprise witnesses and a twist to finish. But that is a story for another day.
I want my clients and team to be invested in my vision, but I can’t do that if I don’t share it with them. While the stakes are not as high in my business as they were in 1880’s West Virginia, I still need to pay attention.
How do you handle criticism?
Do you communicate enough with your team?