By Guest Contributor Gunnar Hansen, CPA, Financial Executive
My first adventure with getting a horse in a trailer taught me some valuable lessons in leadership.
It all began when I tried to get a horse into a trailer who did not want to be in the trailer. I'm not a small man (at 6'5", 200+), but if a 1,200 lb horse does not want to get into a trailer, it will not happen no matter how much you try.
After 45 minutes of sweaty, frustrating attempts, my loving wife asked if she could give it a try. She proceeded to pick up the lead line and walk the horse into the trailer. Utterly dumbfounded as to how this could happen, I relayed my story to an old cowboy looking for some sage advice.
After listening to my story he thought for a moment then said "You have to be smarter than the horse". Not wanting to spread my ignorance any further I nodded and thought 'I'm smarter than a horse...aren't I?'
Several weeks later I was working with the same said horse when I received some more sage advice, "You need to make the horse want to be in the trailer". You would have thought that all this cowboy logic would have driven me over the edge.
This time, willing to press my ignorance I asked, "Why would a horse want to be in the trailer?"
The answer was simply, "Make all other areas where it does not want to be". Then it hit me:
I had to stop wanting the horse in the trailer and had to start
convincing the horse to want to be in the trailer.
That is, I had to be smarter than the horse. For the next half an hour I exercised the horse by having her trot on a lead line, working up a sweat (for both me and the horse).
Then we stopped and I presented the horse with the opportunity to rest inside the trailer. The horse declined my offer, so we began exercising some more. After several more minutes, I presented the opportunity for the horse to again rest in the trailer.
She took a few steps into the trailer. Building on this minor success, we completed a few more repetitions of exercising and asking, after which the horse was finally ready to be in the trailer.
That horse taught me some valuable lessons.
1) If you are not being genuine, it shows. Why did I have a hard time getting the horse in the trailer while my wife could simply walk the horse in the trailer? I started out 'assuming' the horse wanted to go in the trailer simply because I wanted her to, while my wife asked if it would go in. Even without words, your body language and attitude speak volumes.
2) Listen. Don't pretend that you know everything or assume you know what some else is talking about. Listen and ask questions, people (and horses) like to be heard.
3) Third, understand the motivation which will be critical in accomplishing a goal. Remember, it's what motivates others that count.
4) You have to believe. Your confidence illuminates like a beacon for others to see. If you believe something can be accomplished, others will be more willing to believe it and follow your lead.
People are not horses. Yet like people, horses have an innate ability to read people, which has evolved out of their survival. They will follow a strong leader.
It is this insight into a horse's brain which has taught me to be a better leader. Given enough tools and brute strength, I (and several of my friends) could physically make a horse get in a trailer. However, the horse will not be mentally in the trailer.
Likewise, you may be able to make someone follow your ideas, but they will be more willing to support you if you think like a front end of horse rather than act like a back end of one.