Ten Thousand Horses: How Leaders Harness Raw Potential for Extraordinary Results

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In this fable of organizational transformation, bestselling authors of The Serving Leader John Stahl-Wert and Ken Jennings providzqe a clear and actionable model for addressing one of the most pressing challenges every leader faces: how to move employees from compliance to engagement.

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End of the Rope

ePub

Matt James was slumped forward onto the executive conference table, his forehead pressed against the gleaming rich mahogany finish, his arms outstretched before him as though in prayer. He was alone, his mute supplication aimed at no one. His boss and the company’s executive team had departed the meeting half an hour before, leaving him to ponder their ultimatum and to stare down into the depths of his ruin. They’d given him one more chance to try to light a fire under his lackluster team, and at the very end they offered him words of hope and encouragement. They were sticking with him, they had said, because they believed in him. They just knew he could turn his twenty-two-member team around, tap into “all that incredible talent” that was going to waste, and get some real results!

But Matt knew that he couldn’t. He had already tried everything he could think of and had nothing to show but two years of divisional losses in advertising clients and profits. The executive team had said they believed in him, but their faces told him something else. The team’s collective show of faith hadn’t come easily; their smiles and affirming nods had required an obvious exercise of unwilling muscle. It wasn’t that he blamed them. The truth was, he didn’t believe in himself anymore.

 

The Climb of Trust

ePub

The newness of everything around him—and the strangeness of it all—made it seem to Matt that the volume button had been turned up on all his senses. Only one week had passed since he’d hung up the phone with David, one short week and then a few hours of flight. But the life he’d led seemed so distant now, the world he left a gray and shadowy place.

Matt’s flight that morning to Colorado Springs had been smooth, and halfway across the small parking lot from the airport to his rental car, he had stopped, propped his wheeled suitcase against a post, and looked around. The closeness of the sky amazed him, as did its blueness and its size. He took a breath, a big breath, and then another.

He’d driven slowly, a tourist to this new world, a child on his first outing. Driving northwest out of Colorado Springs, Matt wound his way in and around the colossal burnt umber rock outcroppings of the Garden of the Gods and climbed ever higher, Pike’s Peak rising to nearly three miles’ elevation to the west. And then he’d found the entrance sign for “High Summit Ranch,” a smaller placard reading “Wild Mustang Adoption Program.” After driving up the ranch’s long and winding lane, he’d been greeted with a father’s embrace by David. He’d been immediately ushered into a spacious dining hall for a late private lunch and then out to the ranch’s horse stables. His transfiguration from suited executive to denim-clad ranch guest had happened so quickly, and what he now stood face-to-face with threatened to overwhelm his senses altogether.

 

Mounting the Challenge

ePub

Matt’s eyes opened with a start, his body electrified by the sound of a cry he was sure had been real. He’d just been dreaming that he was searching for a child who was lost, and in his dreams he had heard the child—a son—calling for help. But the cry that awakened him was surely not from his dream; it was too vivid and startling to be a dream, and it had punched a lucid hole right into the heart of his hazy, half-volume dream of searching and loss.

His eyes wide open now, he couldn’t see a thing. The bright digital bedside clock wasn’t shining out the time from its customary place to his right. And the light from the streetlamp outside his bedroom window was gone, the window itself indiscernible in the blackness that surrounded him. Stranger still, Matt couldn’t hear anything—no horns, no buses, no sirens, no screeching brakes, no air conditioners thrumming like a plague of locusts.

And no one crying.

Matt reached to his left, feeling for the warmth of his wife asleep beside him. He was alone—lying in a narrow single bed— and realizing this, he remembered where he was. The reaching motion made his body complain loudly from a great number of muscle groups. He grimaced and recalled the awkward and jarring blows he’d taken atop a horse the day before. His chest felt heavy, too, the thin air adding its own toll to his weariness.

 

Directing the Charge

ePub

I’ve only told you part of the story, David.” Matt was sitting in his mentor’s apartment suite—a bedroom, bath, and sitting room David occupied within the larger sprawling ranch house— on the large leather couch, his pajama-clad friend across from him in the massive armchair.

When Matt knocked on David’s door, it had opened almost immediately, his friend looking totally awake, almost expectant. Matt had lain in bed for the greater part of an hour—another too-early wake-up facilitated by his New York body clock— and finally arose with resolve to pad his way down the hall to the door he’d seen David enter the night before. He’d felt stupid doing this, stupid and weak, but he did it anyway. It was his night, he figured, his turn to wake up the old man. Every hour he spent on this ranch made him feel more like one of the youths and less like one of the grown-ups.

“My problems aren’t just at work.” Matt made this comment with the grim resolve of a penitent determined to tell his confessor the rest of the story.

 

Leading the Cheer

ePub

The midmorning drive to the airport on Saturday was less than a sixty-mile trip, and on almost any road system in the United States it should have taken an hour at most. But when combined with his trancelike state, the serpentine road-way that led back down the mountain turned Matt’s sober trek into a two-and-a-quarter-hour journey. The sun was intermittently in his eyes as it rose ever higher into the morning sky or was flashing brilliantly against the steep rugged mountains to his left or right as he traced his way down from High Summit’s nine thousand feet above sea level to Colorado Springs’s mere six thousand. Driving through the town of Divide, Matt shook his head in bemusement. Divide, indeed. He was at a divide, and what his personal one was about was greater than a continent.

Finally through the last twisting turns in and around the Garden of the Gods, the airport now only another twenty minutes away, Matt felt his anxiety growing. It had all seemed so clear, finally, the night before. David and he had talked till after midnight, and then he’d made his choices. The course was set, and he had been prepared, as he went to bed, to live with the consequences.

 

New Engagement

ePub

Seventeen hundred miles later, Matt was back in familiar urban chaos. The red-white-and-blue-lit Empire State Building and an overly talkative limo driver told him he was home. He directed the limo to take him straight to the office, even though it was 1:30 in the morning. Only Bob Herman, the night guard, was there to greet him. “Come into my office, Bob,” Matt invited. “Do you have a minute to talk?”

With a puzzled but interested audience, Matt laid out a plan to create the structure of goal achievement teams throughout his division and to introduce the Engagement Equation as the process his team would use to improve their results. To the guard’s bemusement, Matt also printed out photos of wild mustangs, Rocky Mountain scenes, and children to post around his office.

Bob took it in with an interested expression on his face. He was thinking that Matt had lost it—and had become friendlier. But listening to Matt beat strolling the floors.

For the first time in his career, Matt then slept on his office couch, awakening after two hours to shower in the workout locker room. As he moved around the building in the predawn, he strained his ears for the sounds of kids laughing and chatting as they started their daily routines. Instead, he heard the brief musical boot-ups of office computers and the increasingly frequent warbling of various cell-phone ring tones.

 

Engagement Equation

ePub

 

Taking the Next Step

ePub

 

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