You can lead a horse to water . . .
How many times have you heard that statement? It is an old bit of country wisdom. You can bring your horse to the water trough. But, if he ain’t thirsty, then he ain’t drinkin’.
Now, consider an update to that piece of rural wisdom.
You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. However, you can salt his oats!
In days gone by, our forefathers knew that if a horse has been sick and is weak and in danger of going down, you can put a little salt in his oats and that salt will draw it to the watering trough and make it want to drink. This is a great analogy of one of the skills that we need as leaders from time to time.
From time to time we will have reluctant followers. Their reluctance may be the result of factors beyond our control. Nevertheless, we have to lead them even when they are not exactly in the mood to be led.
What is the leadership lesson here?
I think the leadership lesson is that as leaders it is our job to create a “thirst” for the things that will help the organization (and these reluctant followers) to grow and be successful at the mission for which they have been chosen. One of my favorite leadership quotes paints a picture of this much better than I can. Consider this quote by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry who was a French aristocrat, writer, poet, and pioneering aviator before, and during, the Second World War.
If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.
Isn’t this a more refined way of saying that you need to salt their oats from time to time?
I think it is easy to drum up the men and start ordering them about. But that doesn’t sound like leadership. That sounds like a dictatorship. And did you get the methodology that comes from this quote? He indicates that one of our roles as leaders is to be a teacher. We are to teach and inspire those around us to yearn for something bigger than the tasks at hand.
Many leaders struggle with the internal conflict of being task or mission driven on the one hand and being visionary and inspirational and educational on the other hand.
What kind of leader are you? Are you creating a “thirst” for water and a “yearning” for the sea?