Leading Your Horses to Water

You know the old saying, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink”?  Lately, I’ve been reflecting on that adage and how it relates to personnel development.  People aren’t computers, either.  We can’t just download the latest version of an operating system or program to get them to work better and more efficiently.  Your staff brings to work the basic skill set they had when you hired them.  Along with that is their attitudes and willingness to learn and improve.  Some horses will drink the water, some won’t.  So what do you do?

  1. Get them thirsty.  One way is to coach them and discuss with them how they see things.  What are their fears, goals, mores and attitudes?  Something is holding them back from drinking the water and working on improvement.  Work on having an intimate conversation on a personal level to discover their reluctance.  Take small steps towards the river with conversations that help assuage their fears and get them to try new things.  Before long they just might be sipping the water and learning a new skill.
  2. You have to drink first.  Testing the waters and going first is leading by example.  Leadership starts with being brave enough to admit what you don’t know.  Maybe their reluctance stems from the fact that you don’t have experience in their position.  Maybe they just need someone to go first.  Show them that you are willing to bend your head down and take a gulp from the river yourself.
  3. What’s in the water?  To get more of your horses drinking, illustrate what’s in the river of knowledge.  How does it taste?  Is it cool to the throat?  Clean and clear?  Spend some time and discuss the end result of your program.  How will benefits of the training help them in the long run?  Paint the picture of success.
  4. Are you riding the wrong horse?  There are a few people that will never change.  I’ll bet you have one in your company.  They are the person that sits in the back, arms folded, scowl on their face.  Either they publicly criticize everything, or they never comment on anything, participate in anything or add value to your company.  See that herd over there?  Go ahead and lasso yourself a thoroughbred.  Time for that old nag to be put out to pasture.  I’ll bet once that old soap is gone the rest of your herd might improve too.
  5. Ride ‘em cowboy! Wrong – Remember you can’t dig your spurs in to get more production out of people.  That might produce some short term success and speed, but in the long term it’s not going to get your staff over the horizon where you want to go.
  6. Make sure there’s room at the trough.  Don’t just select a few people to invest time in growing their potential.  Ensure that there’s opportunity for everyone by including a discussion at different times.  Performance reviews are a natural fit for reflection and dialog about cross training and development.  Build your program so that everyone can benefit and rise up with different challenges.  Don’t just focus on training one horse, train the herd.
  7. Wait, are you at the right river?  Meaning, are you focusing your efforts on the wrong things?  Before you ask your herd to drink, double-check that you are positive that the water is safe to drink and will produce the benefit you desire.  It doesn’t hurt to verify and get other opinions.  Ask for directions.  Sometimes your horses are smarter than you think too.  Get their opinion.

I know; I know…using horses as a metaphor for people is probably not a good idea.  People aren’t horses, so pardon the allusion.  Hopefully you can look past my creative license, and my article made some sense.  It’s a stretch to link everything up, but at the end of the day we all have a staff that we need to develop. 

Have a challenge with your staff growth and development?  Send me an e-mail and let’s discuss!!  How do you get your horses to drink?  Let’s compare notes!!  matkinson4804@gmail.com


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