This year, I was invited to lead a personal development retreat for some high caliber business owners and they chose a Colorado dude ranch as the location. One afternoon we took a break to ride horses. We were at a dude ranch, after all. And, yes, I appreciate how cool my job can be. 🙂
It’s been years since I’ve ridden a horse. Getting to ride again was awesome. While alternating between grinning like a kid and trying to look cool, I realized cowboys know a thing or two about leadership.
The first thing our guide said was, “Remember, these are horses, not machines. They have a mind of their own.” You don’t control a horse, not the way you control a car. You persuade a horse to become your traveling partner. And you won’t persuade a horse through force. They are much, much bigger than we are. They can go anywhere they really want—as one of the other riders discovered when her horse ran off from her group despite her repeated pulling on the reins and shouts of “Whoa!”
You don’t ride a horse by pushing the animal or jerking on the reins. You’ll just confuse it or make it mad. Cowboys don’t control their horse, they partner with it. And it’s the same with leaders. For a short time, you can fool yourself that you have control. But in the end it’s all about persuasion. They have to truly believe that where you want them to go is the right path. You have to be aligned on the same goal—like partners.
It can seem so much simpler and faster to decide the path and force them to do what we want. But the hard truth is we can’t avoid the need to persuade. At best, we can delay the consequences of their disconnection. This is why some kids look obedient but go wild in college. They never truly agreed with the rules their parents enforced. They weren’t actually working toward the same goal.
What or who in your life do you need to stop trying to control? Maybe it’s time to let go of that illusion. When you do, you might discover you can finally enjoy the ride.