I’m led to contemplation of leadership and the qualities needed to be a strong, competent leader, by a book I read, recently. It wasn’t a book about leadership, to be honest. At least, not the kind of leadership needed to build a Xerox or an IBM or even a Google.
This book, The Soul of A Horse: Life Lessons from the Herd wasn’t even written as a book on leadership. But, the lessons learned are of the highest order of leadership, in my humble opinion. They are powerful lessons, enduring, and infinitely challenging.
This book spun my world around a hundred different ways. It challenged my perceptions of this world I live in, where leaders are made through trial and tribulation, often at the hands of merciless schoolmasters or hardnosed parents. In this book, leaders are made by choice - not force.
Written by Joe Camp, director, writer, and producer of the Benji (dog) movies, popular earlier this century, the book is written for horse lovers. It’s written to help human beings understand the leadership and followership mentality of a horse. I submit that it’s in understanding why choose to horses lead or follow, that business leaders today could learn a little something.
Joe Camp is a unique individual. He proved that a dog could become the mascot of an entire country, with Benji. In this book, he steps off that familiar path (another lesson for leaders to learn) and painstakingly proves that horses can think. He carefully unveils the reality of horses on the plains, before man took charge of them and turned them into beasts of burden. He teaches the reader why the herd has to follow their leader - why that leader is beholden to the herd, and why humans have misjudged the majestic nature of the horse for so many years.
As I read it, I learned that horses exist to produce progeny; progeny that will continue the bloodline, from now to eternity. There is no other purpose than this. The leader must protect the herd, he must birth the next bloodline, and, with the matriarch, he must continually search out and discover safe, lush feeding areas. In the life of a horse, the herd is everything. Joe became leader of his small band of horses. He became one with the herd - by learning to speak their language.
I was reminded of how humans often congregate in herds, though we don’t call it that. We use the same mentality horses’ use - we choose leaders on the basis of their ability to take care of business, whether that’s protection from the outside or from each other (even horses have their disagreements!). There can be no doubt that leadership in business requires integrity, dedication, assertiveness, and a willingness to sacrifice for the sake of the team. All attributes Joe will tell you that horses have, in spades.
In The Soul of A Horse Joe Camp details the necessity of patience, protection, understanding, and being one with your horse. It’s a story of partnership - based on choice. It’s a story of how to give up when it’s time to give up (as in the story of how he could not keep one particular horse, but had to allow it to go on to a better home). Tough decisions are a part of leadership, and horses make them, too.
Joe Camp may have written a book about horses, about “Life Lessons from the Herd,” but I read a book about leadership in a changing world. I read a book about leadership that is created by necessity, adopted by the strong, and accepted by the many. The community of man needs strong leadership, the way the herd needs strong leadership. It doesn’t come without strength of character, and it isn’t secured without sacrifice.
Like all good books, The Soul of A Horse is a starting point. It has lessons to teach, if you will but open your soul to learning them. Lead with intent, or not at all.
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About the Author: Yvonne DiVita is the author of Dick*less Marketing: Smart Marketing to Women Online, a book about getting those baby boomer icons Dick and Jane to buy at your website. Following publication of her book, she founded Windsor Media Enterprises, LLC. all about Books, Blogs and Beyond. Yvonne maintains a blog at LipSticking supporting her work in the women’s market online. Yvonne is the VP of Web Communications at the Rochester Chapter of the American Marketing Association. She is quoted throughout the net on marketing to women, blogging for business, and publishing.