This weekend as I was watching a professional horse trainer work with a horse that had a nasty habit of kicking anytime he didn’t like something and didn’t want to do what was asked of him, I realized the horse not only had a behavior problem, he also had a respect problem – in other words, he didn’t respect the trainer and was “acting out” to get out of the work he didn’t want to do.

Horses are incredible animals, but they are so big and so strong that they only do what they want to do – period. So, how do you get a horse to want to do what you want them to do? The same way you get people to want to do what you want them to do – by being a strong leader who’s earned their respect.

“Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it?”                       ~ Dwight D. Eisenhower

When horses don’t respect you as their herd leader they will rub their head on you, pin their ears back when you approach, try to run over you as you lead them, kick at you or when you go through a gate or enter a stall. People don’t show disrespect the same way – rather they often disregard your input, ignore your suggestions, slow their work or they simply go around you for direction from the people they do respect – whatever their tactic, their performance, and yours suffers.  As with horses, it’s the little things that gain respect:

  1. Demonstrate expertise – When you’re trying to establish dominance or respect with a horse, you have to demonstrate you have the ability to be the alpha horse. To be an effective leader with people you also have to demonstrate you’re worthy of your role and this is often done by demonstrating you have the knowledge, skill and ability to be in your respective position. Now don’t get me wrong, your employees don’t want you to beat them over the head with your expertise; they simply want to know it’s there.
  2. Be positive – horses and people can sense negativity in a leader and neither one responds well to it. Negativity sends the message that you’re mean or bitter – this behavior develops fear – not respect.
  3. Delegate effectively – Employees want the opportunity to develop their skills; effective leaders understand this and delegate meaningful work (not just grunt work) to their employees and then provide space for them to accomplish it. Leaders who tell employees how to do something send a message they don’t really trust them and don’t value them. Employees find it difficult to trust a leader who can’t let go.
  4. Offer help when needed – If you walk through a work area and find that an employee is struggling with a work assignment, offer to give them a hand. Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty – remember a good leader never asks their team to do something they wouldn’t do themselves.
  5. Actively Listen – Horses obviously can’t talk, but boy can they communicate, if you’re listening. When talking to employees, shown genuine interest and enthusiasm for their ideas and suggestions. Like horses, people rarely state exactly what they’re thinking or feeling, so you have to pay close attention or you’ll miss the most important part – the body language. Don’t be thinking about what you’ll say next; rather be present in the moment.
  6. Be available – Gaining the respect of your horse is a process, just as it is with your employees, and if you want to gain their respect you have to spend time with them. This means truly making yourself available – not just saying you have an open door policy, but truly embracing employees when they actually use it! Employees want to believe they have your ear and can come to you with issues or concerns.
  7. Don’t’ take yourself too seriously – Make it a point to laugh. When things are tense and the pressure is high, learning to laugh can make the work environment much more enjoyable. People, just like horses, can sense tenseness and it puts everyone on edge. Learning to lighten up and laugh shows others that you’re human and approachable.
  8. Establish a vision that inspires – It’s difficult to respect a leader who doesn’t know what he/she wants or where they’re going. People, like horses, can quickly become frustrated when they don’t know what you want or where you’re going. Without a comprehensive vision, your team will lack purpose and direction and team motivation and morale will suffer.
  9. Do you talk the talk and walk the walk – When you’re working with a horse, you absolutely have to be sure you’re aren’t sending mixed messages about what you want – otherwise your horse will become confused and hard to handle. Employees react in much the same way. Are your verbal and nonverbal cues sending a consistent message ? It’s amazing how many leaders say one thing while their actions say another. For example, leaders often say they value input from their team, but shoot down every idea their team presents. People will only knock bang their heads against a brick wall so many times before giving up.
  10. Give positive reinforcement – Leaders who want employees to perform at a high level understand the importance of positive feedback and recognition. When providing recognition, make sure it’s genuine and sincere and share the feedback as soon as possible so the behavior is reinforced immediately. Horses, like people respond positively when desired behavior is reinforced.

Without respect, your horse and your people won’t perform up to their potential. So, if you want to be an individual contributor, keep doing everything for everyone, but if you want to be a leader, command, don’t demand respect.

*Horse-ism – Using good ‘ole horse sense to become an extraordinary leader.