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4 surprising leadership lessons this CEO learned from her horse

July 19, 2015, 3:00 PM UTC
Courtesy of Gay Gaddis

MPW Insider is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for: How do you lead a team during a time of transition? is written by Gay Gaddis, CEO and founder of T3.

If there is one thing that life on the range has taught me, it’s that if you have an effective leader, you stand a much better chance of surviving through times of change. Nature understands this. I can’t think of a single creature that doesn’t adhere to this principle when the going gets tough. Yet, when companies like Zappos move to holacratic and flat organizational structures, it can seem as if businesses today think they know better than Mother Nature. But, I’m not sure I agree.

Our horse, Eugene, is a sorrel quarter horse. He is the smallest one in the herd, so he isn’t an obvious choice for the leader of the pack. But he is wily, friendly, confident and calm, amongst a herd that is prone to panic in a crisis. So, Eugene uses his unique abilities to help the herd weather storms. Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about how to exercise good horse sense in times of transition from Eugene, which has (surprisingly) taught me a lot about how to be a successful leader during times of transition.

  1. Every herd of horses has leaders, followers and a well-established pecking order. Similarly, a company can only survive tumultuous times when its leader takes the reins and successfully guides his or her employees, and reminds them to continue performing.
  2. Horses instinctively seek leadership. And so do millennials. While the new generation in our workforce seeks collaboration, they also seek strong mentors and role models in senior leadership positions who can help guide their career ambitions.
  3. Alpha horses take a beating without complaint. In times of change, effective business leaders must be willing to make tough decisions and weather the consequences knowing that it will benefit the entire organization.
  4. Often times, the leader among wild horses is an old mare. Experienced mares have the dignity, resourcefulness and hang-in-there resiliency that guide the others through difficult times. Likewise, it’s the seasoned business executive that you’ll look to for guidance to survive over the long haul.

Read all answers to the MPW Insider question: How do you lead a team during a time of transition?

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Meet the woman who rescued Build-A-Bear Workshop by Sharon Price John, CEO of Build-A-Bear Workshop.

Managers, this is why you need to send more emails by Liz Wiseman, president of Wiseman Group.

The upsides of change at your company by Barbara Dyer, president and CEO of The Hitachi Foundation.

How every boss should tell employees that change is coming by Kathy Bloomgarden, CEO of Ruder Finn.

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A good boss never leaves their employees in the dark by Sandi Peterson, group worldwide chairman of Johnson & Johnson.