3 More Leadership Lessons From A Horse Whisperer


Photo Credit: mnsc Creative Commons

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.
They need:
A Leader.

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…



Pride vs Communication, Don’t Fight With Your Team

The Hatfield Clan

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:

1) Pride
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?

Strengths Training For Leaders: Part 2

Part 2: Who, Really, Is On Your Team?

Who is on my team?

Have you ever played a pick up game of flag football or basketball, and teams are picked, and you can’t remember who is on your team?

Who should be the quarterback?

Who can catch?

What do you do?

You ask everybody:

“Hey, can you throw?”
“Can you kick?”
“What play should we run?”
“Whose team am I on?”

Imagine yourself at work or church and not knowing who is on your team.
Should you just hand out jobs like it’s Halloween? To anybody that’s standing in front of you? What do you ask people to do, if you don’t know what they are good at?

In the last post we looked at the need for a leader to focus on what she does well. And to let everything else fall away.
But not forever, and here is where your team comes in. They can pick up the slack for you and for each other.
In Strengths-Based Leadership, Tom Rath described this process.
He talked about effective leaders and how they surround themselves with the right people and build on each other’s strengths.
Mr. Rath worked closely with many great leadership teams. He discovered that every team had strong elements of all four of these domains:

Relationship Building
Strategic Thinking

The 34 strengths we briefly looked at in the last post fit into these four domains.When you learn your team’s strengths, you can develop a team that has aspects of all four domains.

“Although individuals need not be well-rounded, teams should be.”

Leaders should know their own strengths and their weaknesses. Rath says that they should know “who they are and who they are not.” Then form a team to bolster your weaknesses.

Effective teams, Rath says, can discuss openly their strengths and how to utilize them best. He goes on to describe how these strong teams also have 5 things in common:

1. Conflict doesn’t destroy strong teams because strong teams focus on results.

2. Strong teams prioritize what’s best for the organization and then move forward.

3. Members of strong teams are as committed to their personal lives as they are to their work.

4. Strong teams embrace diversity.

5. Strong teams are magnets for talent.

When you have built your team, the work is not finished. You must continually develop your team’s strengths, give them opportunities to grow. And you must continue to build stronger relationships within your team.

If we go back to the flag football analogy, now can we say what position everyone should play? Can we take advantage of everyone’s strengths? To the benefit of our team? Can we pass and catch and block effectively? So now that we are an effective team, what is our goal?

That is up to you.

What could a focus on strengths do for your team?



We have examined what a leader needs to do to focus on strengths, but now what do the followers need? For the answer, stay tuned for the next post.

Strengths Training For Leaders Part 1

What is Strengths-Based Leadership?

I’ve always been taught it’s vital to be well-rounded. If I have weaknesses, I should strengthen them. If I struggled with a subject in school, I should study harder, and “just learn it.”
That’s not necessarily true.


A friend introduced me to The Strengths-Based ideas a few months ago. Just prior, my team and I had taken the DISC personality profiles. The Strengths approach offered additional clarity.
About the same time I heard the author, Tom Rath, on the Entreleadership podcast talking about his book, Strengths-Based Leadership. In that podcast, he gave an example of why focusing on strengths is important.

Report Card

He asked if you were a parent, and your child brought home a report card with
4 A’s and
1 C,
which subject would get the most attention?
The C right? Most likely it would be the subject in which the child doesn’t have a natural aptitude, or doesn’t enjoy. All the while, ignoring the subjects he loves or is good at. Why is that the case? Why can’t we focus and build on what our kids do well? Why can’t being great at a few things be good enough?
But we don’t always take the opportunity to invest in those talents early.
Tom Rath shows an equation of what constitutes a strength,

Talent  X  Investment = Strength

The Key

The key, he says is to invest and build on who you already are.

Gallup polling, and Donald Clifton developed the Strengths-Based philosophy. Basing it on years of polling data and statistical studies. They interviewed successful leaders and identified 34 Strengths, or attributes that these leaders showed.

Not Well-Rounded

Not every successful leader has the same strengths. They just have spent time recognizing their own strengths and developing them. They were not “well-rounded”, but they knew themselves and they gathered a team around them to help make up for their weaknesses.
When I bought the book, “Strengths-Based Leadership” I was given a code to take the Strengths Finder 2.0 online test. It was revealing about who I really was, and what I do well.
I think the results were right on the money.
My top 5 Strengths are:

1. Learner
2. Context
3. Connectedness
4. Input
5. Belief

Let’s take a look at my number 1:

I am an avid learner. I am always reading something. I’ve been known to pack a suitcase full of books for vacation. I can’t seem to help myself. So, with that in mind, I need to leverage that, and build on that strength.
I take continuing education courses every year. I’m an avid note-taker, I use them for review and teaching my team.

In summary, get to know who you are, develop your talents. Invest in your strengths. Don’t strive to be the well-rounded person that our culture values so much.

Be strong.



What are your strengths?


Next time, we’ll investigate how this philosophy can help you build a rockstar team.