Leadership Lessons From A Very Old Horse

Awhile ago I joined an executive team as they went horseback riding for the afternoon.  When I facetimed home that evening to say hi to the family, my teenager’s response was, “Is the horse okay?”  Little did I know that I would learn some valuable leadership lessons from Ol’ Paint.

The truth is, he didn’t seem okay to me.  My poor horse was never able to keep up with the pack.  Always lagging behind.  When we stopped for a break, I had a conversation with the leader of the group:

Me:  So how long does a horse live?

Him: About 30 years.

Me: And how old is old glue-hooves (This was my pet name for my… steed?  Mount? Surely not stallion?).

Him: Coming 27.

27?  My poor horse is three years from palliative care and he spends his sunset years lugging me around?  No wonder he mails it in from time to time.  After that I just let him do whatever he thought best.

As we trotted along (very painful, this trotting btw) I had some time to reflect on how there’s always someone like my horse in every organization.  Too good to fire, not good enough to rehire if it could all be done over.  Always lagging behind.

So here are some quick questions suggested by Jim Collins that you can use to evaluate your team members, or yourself:

Are you beginning to lose other people by keeping this person in the seat?

The main reason people leave is because they work for (or with) a brilliant jerk.

Do you have a values problem, a will problem, or a skill problem?

Skills can be addressed through training and mentorship.  Values and will issues are another matter.

What’s the person’s relationship to the window and the mirrors? The right people look out the window when things go right, giving credit to others. The wrong people look in the mirror assigning credit to themselves.

Another sign of a brilliant jerk.  They display immaturity by thinking mainly of themselves.

Does the person see work as a job or a responsibility?

You know which is which when you hear people saying, “Sorry, that’s not my department.”  This is a terrible sign.

Has your confidence in the person gone up or down in the past year?

Trajectory is very important.  If a person is gaining steam, they could be in a very different and better place in another year.  If they’re in decline, something has to happen to stop that decline or it will continue.

How would you feel if the person quit?

If you’d feel relieved, that’s probably not a good  sign.

I intervene with people for one reason:  because I care.  As John Maxwell famously says, “Caring precedes confronting.”  Caring. Precedes. Confronting.

So look at your team (and yourself) and go through the questions.  Evaluate each person so everyone can show up and be their best.

Trevor Throness is a speaker, consultant, and author of “The Power of People Skills.”  He is also co-founder and senior instructor at www.professionalleadershipinstitute.com https://www.professionalleadershipinstitute.com/

Find more about “The Power of People Skills” here: https://www.amazon.com/Power-People-Skills-Dramatically-Performance/dp/1632651068

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