Harnessing Your Horsepower

Horses are interesting creatures. They’re actually very smart animals, much smarter than cattle or sheep. Horses enjoy learning and can be taught complex routines. Teaching takes great patience. Push a horse too hard to do something they’re not ready for and you’ll turn them off, maybe for good. There are also many different breeds of horses, each with its own unique capability. There are speed horses, agile cutting horses, and strong work horses to mention a few.

You too have horses, maybe a lot of them in your barn. They each want to learn and work using their own unique skills. If you see your business culture as a Kentucky Derby, the sprinters may perform well but others won’t. Likewise the sprinters may tire quickly pulling the heavy load you have from time-to-time. Speed horses love racing and work horses love plowing. It’s not about passion or training, it’s about breeding. Like a balanced investment portfolio, long-term success begins with knowing the horses in your barn and having the right mix for the culture and strategy you’re pursuing.

Coaching for peak performance involves getting the right horse assigned to the right role. You don’t create their talent, you develop and nurture it. You don’t create their passion, you ignite and release it. The challenge then is figuring out what type of horse you’re working with. There are a number of ways to know your breeds. Some are obvious from having had them in the barn for years. Others that are showing up at the gate can be identified through assessments and other objective means. Unlike real horses that we can size up by appearance, human horsepower is not as obvious. Knowing their wiring and preferences is important. Otherwise, if you need a race horse, you’ll be frustrated and disappointed if you get a workhorse. Also, unlike a single purpose event like the Kentucky Derby where only one breed matters, your best chance for success comes from mixing your breeds to fit the horse to the job. It can be a mistake to look at business as either a sprint or a pulling contest that requires only one breed.

Once you’ve inventoried the different horses in the stalls, you can begin to assign them to the right tasks. Here’s a few tips from a guy who’s stepped in enough horse apples in his career to know what works and what doesn’t.

  1. Find out what they love to do and exploit it. Tap their intrinsic motivation. When you see someone light up, figure out what happened. When you understand it, you’ll know how to ignite their joy and interest in work. Don’t dump your work and walk away. Include those who are both passionate about the issue and capably talented. But expect them to work.
  2. Pay attention to what goes on in the corral. Who needs to run and who needs to pull? Who’s chomping at the bit for opportunity? Who has succeeded in the past at the task? Who’s best at breaking and training the young colts?
  3. Conserve your precious feed. Just because you have horses in the barn doesn’t mean you need them. There just aren’t enough stalls in the barn for horses unwilling or unable to work. They may have outlived their usefulness. The wrong horses can drain precious resources away from the others. They’re a burden not an asset. When a horse doesn’t fit the work to be done, don’t send him to the glue factory, trade him for a breed that better fits the task.
  4. Don’t beat your horses. Spurs and whips are tools that combined with the right training and coaching can contribute to peak performance. Ask any professional jockey. But misused, they are tools of motivational destruction. Your tone of voice and the way you ask questions can have a lot to do with the cooperation you get.
  5. Take the reins and be the leader. Without direction horses will either go nowhere or run everywhere. They know if you’re leading and if you’re not they’ll do what they want which may be nothing. You can’t fake it, you have to step up into a leadership role and take charge. Nothing else will work.

Horses take us on many journeys. They can take us at great speed or bearing heavy loads that we could never handle on our own. To be at their best they need our individual attention and nurturing. Whether you’re racing in the Kentucky Derby or implementing your next business strategy, the culture you create for the herd will be critical to your success.

If you’d like to have more horsepower in your organization, call or reach me through the “contact us” tab on this page.

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