If we don’t know where we are going, and we don’t know what we are doing, who is going to follow us? My son had an opportunity to attend a horse leadership school. His instructor suggested he take the course, and he said, “What do you mean? What kind of horses? Like, riding horses?”
“I don’t understand the correlation between a horse and leadership,” I said, and she explained. Then, I spoke to my son, and he initially had no interest. Over time, he changed his mind.
The course started with the director teaching students how to get a horse to eat an apple out of their hands. At first, the horse lacked trust in my son. And that lack of confidence made the horse uncomfortable, not wanting to acknowledge him in any capacity.
He sensed that my son didn’t know what he was doing, or where he was going. In due time, however, the students learned to get the horses to feel comfortable around them, to cooperate, to come to them and take the food. They learned how to get the horse to walk alongside them, and then to follow them. They learned a number of tasks with these horses, and at the end of the day, these horses were following them around, gaining trust.
If a horse can sense that a person knows where he is going and what he is doing, imagine the power of that lesson with other people. It’s important we gain the skills and knowledge, so we know what we are doing.
But success is about more than what we’re doing — we also have to set goals to know where we’re going. I have found that in order to be a strong leader in life and business, I adopted the 8 Es: Encounter. Embrace. Engage. Encourage. Empathize. Energize. Empower. Execute. You can do seven of the 8 Es, but if you fail to execute, it’s like training a horse for months and not showing up on race day so he can perform.
The experience with this horse also speaks to lifelong learning — continuing to gain knowledge and listening to others’ perspectives so we can grow in business and life. And as my son and I both discovered during the course, communication is ultimately what led the horse to trust him and take his direction.
In fact, effective communication is crucial in every part of success for leaders. This includes interacting with our family, colleagues and people in our community — customers, strategic partners and suppliers. We also need to understand that a significant amount of communication is nonverbal in the form of body language, gestures, facial expressions. We learn and absorb information in different ways, as well, so it’s imperative to communicate with as many methods as possible — in writing; conversations; and by showing, whether in person or by video.
Strong communication skills are also necessary to explain to others where we’re going and what the goal is — the end game. We can know where we’re going and what we’re doing, but if you fail to explain that to associates, friends or family, who will follow?
The old phrase, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink,” is often used to say we can make it easy for someone to accomplish a goal or complete a task, but we can’t force a person to do it. But when others have faith in our integrity, skills and abilities, understand the goals because of great communication and trust us because we are showing them the path, they, too, will execute. And everyone wins.
Umberto P. Fedeli is CEO of The Fedeli Group