1. Lessons In Leadership
  2. Thoughts from the Zeitgeist

Getting Back on the Horse

It’s a matter of trust.

Every year spent on the planet reinforces this simple truth — it all comes down to trust.

In 2014, I co-hosted a meeting for our top leaders that was entirely focused on trust. We understood that even though the company had reached unprecedented sales growth, our rapid expansion put at risk one of our most valuable corporate assets — trust. We were determined to protect it at all costs. And because our people are so awesome, our values-based culture survived through the years.

I’ve written about the value of trust on many occasions; it continues to be a top priority. And I am especially concerned about the trust-bankruptcy plaguing post-pandemic society. I believe now, more than ever, it is the job of leadership to extend trust in order to earn it.

Taking my own advice, I once again addressed our leadership conference participants on the subject of trust. I urged them to rebuild the trust lost when the pandemic brought in-person live events, and most of our client work, to a halt. And in order to provide our leaders with tangible “here’s how” advice on building trust, I introduced a special guest speaker, David Horsager.

David is the author of the book, Trusted Leader: 8 Pillars That Drive Results. He is the real deal. His message was eagerly received by our leaders and I have already seen David’s advice put into action at our ongoing regional meetings. I won’t steal David’s thunder — although I can certainly recommend him for your next event. But his remarks have stayed with me, especially a specific story that feels like a parable for our times. 

The story he tells is about being raised on the family farm, where he worked hard and also enjoyed racing his beautiful, loyal horse through the acreage. In the story, a rattle snake surprised his horse, who stopped, while David kept going. The results were not good. But David, with his dad’s help, managed to get back on the horse. Literally.

Watching the body language of my colleagues in the audience, I could see how much this story hit home. But it took a few weeks for me to grasp the full import, to understand why they connected on such a deep level.

The act of getting back on the bucking horse wasn’t just a metaphor, it was an act of trust. Young David had absolute trust in his father, who held the reins and urged the boy back up. He trusted the horse, whose instincts regarding poisonous snakes was not unreasonable and whose loyalty was unquestioned. And even though he could have been killed, and was physically and emotionally shaken, David also trusted himself.

The people I work with, and I suspect the people you work with, too, have spent the last three years getting tossed off one horse or another, only to remount and ride it home to the ranch. They get back on that horse because they trust their leaders. They trust their colleagues. And mostly, they trust their own strength, determination, and skill to get the job done.

Trusting ourselves is complicated. But I think an upside of all the recent disruption is that people have learned that they are more capable than they imagined. Not only do they have reason to be more confident, but I suspect they are less worried about what people think and more inclined to be their authentic selves. Maybe this is a by-product of hosting too many video conferences where our personal lives (pets, children, bad-hair days) spilled onto the screen. Maybe it’s because they have given themselves permission to be vulnerable and to work on their own wellness. Maybe they have realized, in the accelerated ramp to return to business, that their ability to make decisions and think on their feet has been proven.

Falling off a horse and getting dragged through a cornfield hurts. But if we trust those around us, and if we have learned to trust ourselves, the act of getting on the horse proves we’ve already won the race that matters.

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