Leaders can significantly improve their skills by having outside hobbies, passions and pursuits.
It helps them channel their energies, frustrations and passions into something else other than organizational effectiveness. It can also help them learn a thing or two…
Business leader Carol Cone of Cone, Inc., a leader in cause-related branding programs is also a champion in the highly competitive world of showing horses when she is not leading her firm.
Cone enjoys this extra curricular activity in part because it closely relates to her role in leading her organization. For the uninitiated, the world of showing horses is about riding horses, known as hunters, over jumps of various heights. The key is to make it look as smooth and effortless as possible, much like ice skating, or like leading a successful organization. But prior to showing horses, things were a bit different.
For two decades, Cone focused single-mindedly on leading and growing her business.
When friends encouraged her to find a personal passion to pursue, it was natural for Cone to return to the equestrian world and the sport she had first enjoyed at age seven.
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Cone not only re-connected with the joy of the sport, but in her unabashedly direct style, says she realized “that I was very good at it!” Her recent honors include the Grand Champion Adult Hunter at the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, Florida for 2006/2007 and the American Hunter/Jumper Foundation National Adult Champion in 2006.
More important, her return to showing horses has taught her four key leadership lessons which she applies at Cone, Inc. and she recommends to others.
The four key lessons are:
4) The Importance of Little Victories
“When you’ve practiced for months, and have only two minutes to do a championship performance, you must be totally focused on the moment. You’ve got so many moving parts on which to concentrate, many of which are new or different: the course, your competitors, the crowd and that day’s weather.”
Cone says that even with a great relationship between rider and horse, the rider must sense if the horse is quiet or nervous.
One must instinctively sense “if you should push, or if you should hold back.”
That kind of intense focus is critical in today’s challenging and rapidly-changing work environment, she adds.
Cone says you can only push horses so far. “You must be patient about their development.” She says the same is true of your team, particularly specific team members.
“Remember, a team isn’t one person, but a group of individuals.”
It’s also critical to be patient when bringing clients to a Big Idea. “You need to give clients the time to understand all the elements before they’re going to take a big leap with you.” And you have to explain the importance of patience to those clients. “They must understand the need to be associated with a cause over time before gaining reputational benefits.”
“When you’re showing, you can have the best horse in the world, but if it needs to be cooled down, or massaged or even get acupuncture, or if it requires an advance ride around the ring at 6:00 am to feel comfortable,” patience is a virtue you must develop to win.
Cone acknowledges that as someone who is very competitive and committed to superb results, this was a tough, but vital lesson for her to have to learn.
Cone is quick to acknowledge that her victories in the show ring aren’t merely her own, but shared with an extensive team, including trainers, grooms, vets, masseuses, blacksmiths and more.
The same is true of cause-related efforts: It requires a team of dedicated agency professionals, a patient client team who believes in the cause, partners at the cause organization, even the media.
“But when it all works,” Cone says, “it’s like a symphony.”
IMPORTANCE OF LITTLE VICTORIES
Cone says that “When you lead an organization, as when you show horses, you must accept that you can’t win every competition,” but you should recognize, acknowledge, learn from, and savor the little victories along the way.
She adds that “Every day I need to accomplish something to be satisfied.”
Still, it’s unrealistic to think that each day will bring a major victory, and if that’s what leaders seek, they’re bound to be disappointed. But celebrating the small victories along the way can inspire a team to deliver the next big idea.
As Patrice Tanaka acknowledged in a recent post about the leadership lessons she learned from ballroom dancing, Cone says there’s one other important learning that leaders can gain by following their passions: “I have an intensity that’s powerful and can overwhelm others. Having another outlet where I can excel allows me to modify that intensity; and that makes me a better leader.”
What leadership lessons might you learn from pursuing your passion? Is your intensity burning out members of your staff? Are you overdue for a lesson in patience? Is it time to start celebrating the small victories? When the last time you acknowledged the team that helped make you a winner?
Ken Jacobs is the principal of Jacobs Communications Consulting LLC.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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