Some of the most powerful leadership lessons I’ve experienced have not come from my high school swim coach, my first inspirational boss or any leadership guru at all. One of the first teachers of my most powerful lessons in what makes great leaders great weighed in at just over a thousand pounds, had four legs, a tail and really big teeth, which he never brushed.
His name was Banjo and he was a horse … of course, of course.
Early on, I struggled, often for hours, trying to get Banjo into the horse trailer so we could go somewhere, a trail ride, the vet or moving from California to Colorado. I would start out calmly, then as he got more stubborn, putting two front feet in then flying out backwards as fast as he could run, I would get frustrated, then angry and then … well, let’s just say I tried all the tricks in the book; coercion, threats, intimidation, pressure and yes, pain. Do these old-style management tactics sound familiar?
An old, scruffy, wise cowboy helped me see the writing in the dirt. After working with Banjo for just a few minutes, then loading him easily several times, he politely tipped his hat to me and said, “Excuse me ma’am. If I can say … what you have here is not a loading problem, it’s a leading problem.”
What you have here is not a loading problem, it’s a leading problem.
A brutal a blow to my “know it all” ego, but he was right. Horses are prey animals and herd animals, who follow trustworthy leaders instinctively. I was not a trustworthy leader in Banjo’s eyes. Being a predator, we were already at odds. Trailers are caves. What lives in caves? Bears, cougars and other predators who eat horses. I was an angry predator to Banjo, with unpredictable emotions and not an ounce of empathy to try to see the world through his eyes.
From that moment on, the lesson “You can judge the quality of your communication by the response you get” became crystal clear. It was my responsibility to take 100% ownership in the quality of my communication … and ask for a “do -over.”
Lucky for me horses are very forgiving creatures … and in my eyes, the most powerful teachers I could ever ask for.
Who have been your most unlikely, yet powerful teachers?