How To Lead “Mustangs”

How To Lead “Mustangs”
How To Lead “Mustangs”

Barbaro won the Kentucky Derby in 2006. He won the race without being defeated. His victory margin was more than six lengths, according to the oddsmakers. He was considered a favorite to win the Triple Crown. After he falsified his start, he broke his right hind foot at the Preakness and had to be put down. Barbaro’s style is described as having a “mustang like the joy of racing” by one reporter.

The story behind this unforgettable event is Edgar Prado, Barbaro’s proud jockey. Prado was not like other jockeys who used a whip liberally, especially on the home stretch and never touched Barbaro using his whip. “Why should he get punished if he is running hard? Prado once told a reporter.

What encourages a “mustang like the joy of racing?” Mustangs can race unrestrained without any passenger or bridle to direct their actions. The concept of freedom is more about having no restrictions than having a spirit that feels entirely in control of its destiny. Barbaro was undoubtedly wearing a harness –the steering wheel that connected athlete and driver. Barbaro had a strong heart and spirit, but there wasn’t any bridle. Barbaro was free to do what he wanted. Prado was aware of this and did not feel the need to direct or order the horse to “run hard.”

What is the source for a Mustang-like Engagement?
All of us know what performance unleashed looks up close. It’s a service experience provided by someone eager to create sensational memories and operate as if the place were her own. The employee fell asleep at her desk because she had to “crack the code.” She worked exceptionally late until she succeeded. This associate defends his firm, even after hearing evidence of improper actions. He says that he believes they did the right things and always do. Here are three ways you can nurture a “mustang spirit.”

Promote a Compelling Purpose
In her book Fabled Service, Betsy Sanders tells the story of a homeless woman in dirty clothing who entered the Nordstrom flagship in downtown Seattle. She made her way to the evening dress section of Nordstrom. She was warmly greeted and helped select an evening dress by the sales associate. She was able to try on several costly dresses without hesitation, and the sales associate commented on how good she looked in each. After a while, she thanked the sales associate and made her way back down the street, smiling.

After witnessing the entire scene, a customer approached the sales representative to ask about her generosity. “You could tell from the starting that she was not going buy an evening dress. You were so kind to spend time with a street child. Confidently, he replied that “This is what you are here for: Our purpose is to serve and be kind.”

We could also do a cost/benefit analysis and question her sales priorities. Nordstrom is well aware of the power and importance of purpose in channeling spirit and commitment. A sense communicates “why.” An action can be driven by a purpose even when nobody is looking. It is the foundation for a belief system that guides values and directs activities. Disney theme parks have magic right down to the last detail. Starbucks is a coffee shop that warmly serves as a local watering hole. Lockheed Martin provides innovative solutions for customers to ensure safety. Gary Hamel writes that “a noble purpose” inspires sacrifice and stimulates innovation. It also encourages perseverance.

Be Extremely Kind
The current CEO of Pennsylvania Hotel and Restaurant Association, John Longstreet, was once the general manager of a large Dallas, TX hotel catering primarily for business guests. His leadership philosophy was innovative and refreshing. John always invited me to talk with my students on the second day of classes when I taught corporate leadership classes in his hotel. Attendees had already felt John’s leadership on the second day. The most common question was, “What do your primary jobs look like?”

John would tell them that John’s job is to treat associates as if they were our guests. They should be more than friendly people. I want them to spread kindness. It is not possible to teach member how to be kind. They were already know-how. You promote service by creating an environment that encourages it. It’s the housekeeper reaching down to speak with a child in her guest’s arms. Or wait for staff who remembers details about guests and shares them with their colleagues. It’s kindness on steroids.

Keep Kindling Passion
I watched the films Amadeus, Rocket Man, and Bohemian Rhapsody on a cross-country flight. Three unique talents, Elton John and Mozart, shared the common theme. Their passions for music kept their high-performance levels despite rejections, failures, and pain. They never lost the mustang spirit. Leadership must allow their associates to be creative and “color outside of the lines” to create a passion-filled environment.

Seth Godin once asked the audience to raise their right hand as high as possible during a TED talk. He asked them to raise their hands slightly once their hands were in the air. After they agreed, he asked them why they hadn’t reached the skies on their first request. Edgar Prado is an example of a leader who builds supportive relationships with his associates. They are eager to give everything right away.

I asked Herb Kelleher, the founder, and CEO at Southwest Airlines, about his leadership of a company full of passionate employees. He mentioned his desire to have a diverse group of people willing to take risks. He explained that associates pay attention to how you treat others who are different. “It tells them if your company is serious about being courageous.

Jackie Freiberg (Kevin) and Jackie Freiberg share the story of Al Gore visiting Southwest Airlines in his presidential campaign. Gore sent a group to Southwest with his front men who wanted to ask the crowd after Gore’s speech. Colleen Barrett, then EVP People for Southwest, quickly replied, “No. Our people would be so offended.” Our people will be spontaneous, ask great, meaningful questions, and be articulate. The event was a great success.

Barbaro is history’s only horse to be buried at Churchill Downs, where the Kentucky Derby took place 142 years ago. A blogger at, Steve Haskin, said that Barbaro had the best of human kindness and compassion while being treated like royalty. His Kentucky Derby victory was only the beginning of his legacy. Cervantes said that the guts are what carry the feet. Barbaro’s feet took his guts to victory after a win. But his heart was a lot more.

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Adam Collins
Adam writes about technology, business and economics. With master's degree in Economics, he's presented six papers in international conferences. As a solivagant in the constant state of fernweh, curiosity is the main weapon in his arsenal.

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