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Tap a racehorse’s winning legacy

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in Leaders & Managers,Team Building

Audiences respond well to speakers who share inspiring stories. By forging an emotional tie to a world-famous victory, you’re more apt to deliver a memorable message.

Consider how Gary Spitzer, a senior vice president at DuPont, rallied hundreds of employees at a company event. His goal was to urge the audience to put heart into their work.

To drive home his point, he got personal. He recalled how, as a teenager, he watched Secretariat win the Belmont Stakes in 1973. He described it as among the greatest athletic achievement of all time.

He then showed a video of the race. The thrilling clip generated excitement among employees, especially as the horses near the finish line.

After the video, Spitzer had tears in his eyes. He confessed that watching the race always makes him emotional. Then he showed a photo of him standing next to Secretariat in 1988.

One year later, in 1989, Secretariat died. Spitzer told the crowd that the necropsy revealed that the racehorse’s heart was more than twice the size of the average equine heart.

Spitzer then linked the story to his main message. He explained his vision for the organization as a winning group “with the heart of a champion, with the heart to win and the heart for each other and for our customers.”

He mentioned that Secretariat won the Belmont Stakes—and thus the Triple Crown—by 31 lengths. That became a rallying cry for employees in the months after his presentation:  They often spoke about “winning by 31 lengths” in their efforts to achieve victory with a big heart.

— Adapted from Lead Positive, Kathryn Cramer, Jossey-Bass.

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