How horses taught this CEO to be a better leader

August 11, 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 build a strong team? is written by Gay Gaddis, CEO and founder of T3.

Without question, the most important job a leader has is building and sustaining great teams. Winning teams are seen as idols both on the playing field and in business.

My secret has always been to surround myself with people who possess different skills and strengths than my own. We may not always agree, but in the end if we are all pulling for overall success, then we make it work. There is not a more beautiful example of teamwork than the percheron draft horses at our Texas ranch. Here’s why:

They are trained to expect the unexpected
These horses have to be unflappable in parades among large, noisy crowds when pulling our large carriages. Similarly, people — leaders specifically — need to be willing to adapt to any situation. Even when everything appears to be going according to plan, something unexpected will happen. Leaders need to be aware and adjust immediately.

One horse always carries more weight
There is always one horse that pulls harder than the other. The stronger horse doesn’t mind carrying the extra weight, because the other is still a valuable partner. There will always be someone who is more interested in being the center of attention, but he or she will still need to rely on their team members for overall success.

See also: Why this CEO thinks making mistakes is admirable

Each horse has a unique role
One horse is always trained to be on the right side, and the other on the left. But they must put their skills together and work in accordance with one another in order to accomplish their goal. Likewise, team members are their strongest when they work together.

Each horse trusts their driver
Every horse has its own driver, and they know exactly how that driver operates and what they expect. Put two different drivers in charge and you will get two completely different results from the same horse. Similarly, employees need to trust and listen to the direction of their leaders in order to get the most out of their team.

Read all answers to the MPW Insider question: How do you build a strong team?

How managers can stay connected to their team by Linda Addison, U.S. managing partner at Norton Rose Fulbright.

The difference between a great leader and a good one by Kerry Healey, president of Babson College.

The easiest way to reduce employee turnover by Kathy Bloomgarden, CEO of Ruder Finn.

3 misconceptions about leading a successful team by Samantha Dwinell, vice president of talent management at Texas Instruments.

How to build a strong team without micromanaging by Sally Blount, Dean of Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.

Here’s the secret to getting better employees by Julia Hartz, co-founder and president of Eventbrite.

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