Maximize a Racehorse Without Getting Trampled
Incompetent leaders hire for fire and spend most of their time putting it out.
Racehorses are fun to watch and dangerous to manage.
Racehorses irritate the heck out of plow horses.
Racehorses are flashy glory hounds who quit too soon and whine too much.
- Don’t play well with others.
- Don’t like being told what to do, more than most.
- Like telling others what to do.
- Big egos.
- Frequent frustration.
- Discouragement when things don’t go their way.
- Poor team builders.
Compensate for weaknesses after establishing baselines of performance and behavior.
4 considerations before including racehorses:
- Organizational culture. How many racehorses are already on the team?
- Previous integration. How have racehorses done in the past?
- Scope and impact of projects. Racehorses fail more than plow horses.
- Strong team dynamics. What’s the orientation of top management to conflict? Are teammates equipped to celebrate diversity, confront destructive behavior, and navigate tension?
Whipping people into line often results in whipping the fire out of them.
Skillful leaders maximize the potential of racehorses.
7 ways to maximize a racehorse:
- Explain values in behavioral terms. This is how we treat each other. No exceptions.
- Map vision clearly. Give them direction and purpose or they’ll run in every direction.
- Set boundaries. Tell them what they can’t do and where they can’t go.
- Pop the gate but stay close. Racehorses need more attention than plow horses. Monitor budgets, relationships, and their energy.
- Fuel fire by turning to the future. Celebrating wins is OK, but racehorses love new goals.
- Lay the law down once in a while or they’ll walk all over you. Say no clearly.
- Watch for injuries and self-destructive behaviors. Racehorses are temperamental. Take stuff off their plates. Clarify their focus.
Those with unique strengths and talents have unique faults and weaknesses.
Are you a mismanaged racehorse? What’s going wrong?
How can leaders maximize the potential of racehorses?
If hiring managers hired for job talent, then racehorses would still be successful but not disruptive.
Thanks Bob. In a perfect world … 🙂
Dan, agreed, there is no perfect world, but i have to agree with Bob’s comment. Your post assumes a perfect world as well. If managers understood the brain mechanics of a racehorse, they’d nurture their best qualities and get out of their way rather than create boundaries. Dont try to keep me in a lane or i’ll never be able to think outside the box. Your suggestions might just lead a racehorse to break a leg and become useless. Usually i agree with your posts, but this one begs to put out the fire that makes a winner. Think Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, etc. Would we ever have seen their greatness had they been kept in their lane? Thanks for your thoughts.
As a “plow horse” be careful where the “race horse” is going … you could get trampled. Race horses leave a lot of mess behind them. If you need a race horse, MAKE SURE you have enough plow horses to clean up their mess. Race horses have no interest in cleaning up (focusing on the mundane). They like the flash. That’s OK … most plow horses don’t need a lot of recognition just a simple recognition in helping the race horse. PLEASE don’t fall into the mindset that you can run an organization with all race horses or plow horses. Depending on your organizations goals, you need a mix of both in the right ratio, to make your organization successful.
Excellant analogy Michael. I could not agree more with your assessement that each and every organization needs ‘Race Horses, and ‘Work Horses’. “When your working with people, it’s all abouit diversifacation baby”!
Thanks Michael. I’m a racehorse and hate cleaning up. Let’s just move on!
there is a time and place for the race horse, especially when you are trying to drive the tipping point of change. Of course, the balance depends on the maturity of the company…I would rather take on a stable of race horses than 2X the plow horse.
Being a “race horse,” I agree with Michael Lapointe’s comment regarding the balance needed.
Thanks Jim. It’s useful to get racehorses in the right lane. Repetition sucks, ambiguity is fine, change is good, attention spans are short. So where do they fit? (All generalizations of course.)
Win,place or Show, you never know but one things for sure somebody will win the race, Leadership on the other hand is more complicated if the jockey knows his horse you can track the winners same way with leaders when they know their workforce, they know the workhorse and who work well with others to get the job done and the flashy ones seem move around and get nothing done but run around all day in circles.
Thanks Tim. You remind me that leaders lift up their heads and watch how people work. They work in the business but they also work on the business.
Management is responsible for putting the right people in the right place – we shouldn’t blame the horse. For example, the Pony Express wouldn’t have been as fast as it was if it had used plow horses to race across the Great Plains and farm work wouldn’t have been as efficient if they harnessed racehorses to a plow or a wagon. So let’s step into that leadership saddle and take responsibility 🙂
Thanks J. It’s a delight to see comments that focus on knowing people and designing teams that work well together.
You know there is no way I can let this post pass without giving an obligatory response, Dan.
Hey Steve!! Great hearing from you. “And there off…” 🙂
I think I fit into this category. I find that I am often discouraged in my work by not having clear goals and constraints to work within.
Thanks Foster. I feel like saying giddy up. It’s incredibly easy to slow people down.
First of all let me thank you Dan for the excellent write up . Comparing employees to race horses who happen to be not too many in any case is a study well intended for leaders. According to me before we tame the Race Horse and make it perform we need to ensure leaders are tuned to do the needful lest it boomerangs. Plus as other people have said there is a need to balance the Race Horse with Work horse lest we see the Race Horse galloping its way in a different direction.
Thanks P G. What really needs to be done? Leaders can answer that. They are not addicted to busyness, but performance.
I’m a mismanaged racehorse! My previous boss was a visionary leader who was great at delegating. He gave me big projects to run with, but set limits and reigned me in when needed. We had conflicts, and I was often frustrated by the slower pace of my colleagues, but we accomplished a lot and I really grew as a professional under his leadership. My current boss is a follower, not a leader, who looks to the members of his team for vision and future direction. His belief is that if you’re good at your job, you don’t need any direction at all. As someone who is always interested in helping the organization achieve the next big thing, I find the lack of clarity frustrating and have to constantly fight the urge to run roughshod over everyone.
Thanks Elie. I appreciate you sharing your story. Sadly, you remind me that a mismanaged racehorse seldom reaches their potential or enjoys their work. You have my best for a future of high performance.
Are you a mismanaged racehorse? What’s going wrong?
I share some racehorse qualities (thankfully not all of them) and have experienced challenges when it comes to being managed by leaders without experience or interest in seeing the value in having a racehorse on the team. I enjoy new challenges and strive to keep rapid forward progress, which is frustrating on a team that focuses on doing paperwork or keeping the status quo. I’ve learned to ask questions about the work and the team before joining or agreeing to new projects. Is this team ready to go forward and fast? Is the team manager going to be offended when I step up and take over tasks that need attention without asking first? Are details more important than progress? And if so, is someone else on the team able to manage the details?
I’ve also been able to recognize my racehorse weaknesses and balance my ambition with the team. I’ve had to learn to say no and stay focused, to not take on more work than I can personally handle, and to consider others and the impact my desire for speed/drive has on them.