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‘Stealth’ leader quietly builds trust

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in Best-Practices Leadership,Leaders & Managers

In the “Wild Kingdom,” you’ve got your alpha and omega animals, as demonstrated by tigers. Then you’ve got your horse of a different color.

This lead animal, explains horse trainer Mark Rashid, has a temperament and role within the herd that’s completely different from the dominant alpha. Instead, guide horses lead by example, so the herd not only follows them but seeks them out. These influential animals don’t pursue a leadership role. They are chosen.

How do you get your herd to choose you? Here’s how Rashid does it, based on two childhood lessons from a rancher.

Lesson 1. When he was 8, Rashid started riding his bike to a nearby ranch, sneaking time with the horses when the owner wasn’t there. Finally catching the child petting his horses, the rancher guided him through a series of choices.

Sensing Rashid’s inclination to bolt, the rancher said, “If you’re going … go on and go. Otherwise, come on.” It wasn’t a threat but a choice, and the boy followed.

After Rashid followed the rancher through a gate separating the pastures, the man stopped, turned and looked at the gate, the boy and back to the gate. The child asked, “Should I close that?” The man answered, “Whatever you think is best.” Rashid ran to latch the gate.

Lesson 2. The way the rancher handled his young trespasser was the same way he handled horses: calmly and with a purpose.

Example: The rancher bought a 4- year-old gelding that had shown well but gradually began to resist being handled. Sent to a trainer, the horse at first behaved well but began bolting and biting. Each time he acted up, he got a severe beating.

The rancher bought the horse for a song and turned him out in the pasture. The horse befriended other geldings but would have nothing to do with people. In a few weeks, the old man rotated the herd to another pasture while the new horse ran away. But the gelding hated being alone. He would run to the fence neighing, and the man would offer to take him to the other pasture, but the horse would run away again. After a day of this, the gelding finally allowed himself to be caught, haltered and led to the herd. It was the last time he bolted.

Bottom line: Position your people to make choices, and let them make them. Whatever they choose, they are the ones who will have to live with their decisions or find better ways.

—Adapted from Horses Never Lie: The Heart of Passive Leadership, Mark Rashid, Johnson Books.

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