Ten Thousand Horses 9781576754504

How Leaders Harness Raw Potential for Extraordinary Results

Ten Thousand Horses

Offers a new approach for moving apathetic employees from passive compliance to active engagement

Matt James is in trouble. Recently promoted to head his division, he has delivered two years of divisional losses in clients, market share, and profits. He knows his workers are talented and creative, but they don't respond to his efforts to lead them, and he's on the brink of being fired. In desperation, he reaches out to an old mentor, David Butler, who now works with wild mustang horses and hard-to-place foster children on a ranch in Colorado. David agrees to work with his former student but only on the condition that Matt comes to him--to the ranch. Matt has no idea what the ranch could possibly have to do with his problems, but David assures him that if he spends some time there, he'll learn exactly what he needs to know.

Through David's unorthodox tutelage, Matt discovers that leaders who succeed in engaging their workers do so because they see their day-to-day work as an opportunity to build an organizational culture of engagement. The engagement model is illuminated as Matt comes to understand its components piece by piece--and ultimately discovers how to engage those on his team and in his life.

In this inspiring leadership fable, John Stahl-Wert and Ken Jennings draw on their years of experience as consultants and chief executives, as well as on findings from Gallup's groundbreaking Q12 survey of 4 million workers from 360,000 workgroups, to lay out an innovative leadership model that will turn employees from dutiful drones to committed contributors. But Ten Thousand Horses is also a story of personal transformation. Beyond specific practices and techniques, Matt must learn a whole new way of relating to his employees--because, as he discovers, leading an engaged workforce is as much about who you are as what you do.

  • Offers a new approach for moving apathetic employees from passive compliance to active engagement
  • Told in an entertaining, page-turning fable format
  • Draws on findings from an authoritative Gallup study of 4 million workers from 360,000 workgroups

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Overview

Offers a new approach for moving apathetic employees from passive compliance to active engagement

Matt James is in trouble. Recently promoted to head his division, he has delivered two years of divisional losses in clients, market share, and profits. He knows his workers are talented and creative, but they don't respond to his efforts to lead them, and he's on the brink of being fired. In desperation, he reaches out to an old mentor, David Butler, who now works with wild mustang horses and hard-to-place foster children on a ranch in Colorado. David agrees to work with his former student but only on the condition that Matt comes to him--to the ranch. Matt has no idea what the ranch could possibly have to do with his problems, but David assures him that if he spends some time there, he'll learn exactly what he needs to know.

Through David's unorthodox tutelage, Matt discovers that leaders who succeed in engaging their workers do so because they see their day-to-day work as an opportunity to build an organizational culture of engagement. The engagement model is illuminated as Matt comes to understand its components piece by piece--and ultimately discovers how to engage those on his team and in his life.

In this inspiring leadership fable, John Stahl-Wert and Ken Jennings draw on their years of experience as consultants and chief executives, as well as on findings from Gallup's groundbreaking Q12 survey of 4 million workers from 360,000 workgroups, to lay out an innovative leadership model that will turn employees from dutiful drones to committed contributors. But Ten Thousand Horses is also a story of personal transformation. Beyond specific practices and techniques, Matt must learn a whole new way of relating to his employees--because, as he discovers, leading an engaged workforce is as much about who you are as what you do.

  • Offers a new approach for moving apathetic employees from passive compliance to active engagement
  • Told in an entertaining, page-turning fable format
  • Draws on findings from an authoritative Gallup study of 4 million workers from 360,000 workgroups

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Meet the Authors


Visit Author Page - John Stahl-Wert



John Stahl-Wert is president of Pittsburgh Leadership Foundation, a 25-year-old community building collaborative in Pittsburgh that has created 50 social sector organizations, and is a faculty member in Geneva CollegeÆs Masters of Science in Organizational Leadership.


Visit Author Page - Ken Jennings


Ken Jennings, Ph.D. is a senior partner at VentureWorks and he is a former co-director of the Global Leadership Program at the University of Michigan Business School and draws on deep experience as a managing partner at Accenture in change management. He also currently serves as managing partner at Third River Partners, a consultancy that specializes in leadership development and strategy execution.

To learn more about Ken and his work, visit him online at Third River Partners.

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¯»¿ Ten Thousand Horses

Matt James was slumped forward onto the executive conference table, his forehead pressed against the gleaming rich mahogany finish, his arms outstretched before him as though in prayer. He was alone, his mute supplication aimed at no one. His boss and the company’s executive team had departed the meeting half an hour before, leaving him to ponder their ultimatum and to stare down into the depths of his ruin. They’d given him one more chance to try to light a fire under his lackluster team, and at the very end they offered him words of hope and encouragement. They were sticking with him, they had said, because they believed in him. They just knew he could turn his twenty-two-member team around, tap into “all that incredible talent” that was going to waste, and get some real results!

But Matt knew that he couldn’t. He had already tried everything he could think of and had nothing to show but two years of divisional losses in advertising clients and profits. The executive team had said they believed in him, but their faces told him something else. The team’s collective show of faith hadn’t come easily; their smiles and affirming nods had required an obvious exercise of unwilling muscle. It wasn’t that he blamed them. The truth was, he didn’t believe in himself anymore.

Matt closed his eyes, letting his forehead rest more heavily on the table’s surface. He’d orchestrated two downsizings in his brief, unimpressive tenure as the company’s newest “rising star.” He’d brought in expert consultants and spearheaded a major strategy change—but to no effect. His division at Lumina Communications Corporation was sluggish at best. The great potential he thought he saw in his staff had not made any public appearances. It was as though they didn’t care; their minimally “satisfactory” performance was no better than could be expected from a gang of clock punchers, and often it was worse.

Most troubling of all was that people in the division he’d inherited had treated him well in the beginning. They’d seemed excited about his appointment as team leader and, truth be told, had given him the benefit of the doubt—for a while.

But then their energy had waned. One by one, members of his team began to back off. Where at first they brought their whole selves to the job, now many of them seemed to bring nothing more than scraps and leftovers.

Matt’s job was now on the line. Though “a final chance” had just been offered, he knew it was just the extra rope required to finish him off. There was no doubt about it, Matt concluded. He was finished.

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Seventeen hundred miles away, David Butler was absorbed in a timeless dusty dance, his cowboy boots moving with a languorous rhythm in a circle around his new partner, a highly agitated mustang stallion. David’s posture and bearing were relaxed, the mustang’s wary and tense. David would take a few slow steps forward along the horse’s left flank, always leaving the mustang’s forward path open, quietly speaking to him all the while. Whenever the horse’s head and neck would crane high, ears erect, David would pause and wait for the panic to subside. If the mustang took a step or two forward, testing the openness of its path to freedom, David would move in nearly the same direction as the horse, his back turned slightly toward it, and take a few steps as though to offer leadership. “I’m not here to trap you, boy,” David would say quietly. “See? I’m just moving a little ahead of you. Stay on your own course if you like, or follow mine; the choice is yours.”

David and the mustang were inside a rough wooden corral surrounded by miles of high-elevation, open grassland. The snow-covered peaks of Rampart Range rose up to frame the western backdrop to this rugged scene. An intensely blue sky laden with massively brilliant clouds caused man and horse to seem small and vulnerable, too perilously exposed to nature’s raw wild beauty.

“That’s a good boy,” David said quietly, encouragingly, when on his next lead the mustang altered his course to take a few small steps after him. “That’s a good boy,” he repeated. “It’s a beginning!”

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In an instant, Matt James jerked up out of his seat, his body reanimating so quickly that the motion might have been caused by the yank of a puppeteer’s strings. Standing erect, his shoulders squared, Matt stared out over a great distance, a new hint of possibility flickering in his gaze.

Unbidden, the face of his old mentor had appeared in his mind’s eye, staring back up at him from the depths of his despair. It’s not the end, Matt, he heard David say, the customary edge of good humor goading him to lighten up. Not the end at all, my boy; it’s a beginning.

That’s exactly what David would say, Matt mused, his conviction growing that he’d had an extremely good idea. His former mentor, David Butler, the now-retired celebrated corporate turnaround specialist would say just that. Put him into the room with almost any despairing board or executive, tell him the plain truth of just how bad things were, and David would shrug; smile his unperturbed, seen-it-before smile; and call it a starting point, a place to begin.

Striding out of the conference room with renewed energy, Matt punched the button for the forty-third floor and rode the elevator down three levels to his divisional offices. It had been a late-afternoon executive-team meeting, but he felt certain Deb would still be at her desk, veteran that she was. You didn’t keep the privilege of serving a midtown Manhattan advertising executive, even a midlevel one, by abandoning your desk before six. More than that, though, Deb’s tenure exceeded his own at Lumina; she was one of the few left whose commitment hadn’t wavered, and he was happy he could still count on her.

“Glad you’re here, Deb,” Matt called out as he rounded the corner to her section, his lanky stride unbroken. “David Butler’s an old mentor from business school. He’s deep in my contacts file somewhere, but it’s been a very long time and I haven’t a clue where he’s disappeared to.” Matt passed Deb’s desk, smiling his appreciation for her capacity to fulfill the task. “Would you find him for me?” he asked, passing into his own office and closing the door.

Deb found him, or rather, she found his ranch. The young-sounding woman who answered the phone, Sara Jarrel, told her that Mr. Butler could not be disturbed—this in spite of the air of significance Deb had put into her appeal. “A business colleague of Mr. Butler’s,” Deb had explained to the whelp. “Mr. Matt James calling from New York City.”

She may as well have tried to impress this cowpuncher with her skill at hailing cabs. “David said no calls, ma’am,” Sara replied, her voice conveying a questioning tone that was aimed at Deb: Are you getting this, Miss Tightly-Wound-Lady-from-New-York? Do you realize just how not an emergency this is?

“We’ve just got in a new mustang,” Sara then added, deciding to give a small additional explanation. “He’s a real wild one, and they just got started. Could David call your man after dinner?” she then inquired, patiently taking down the number. “It’ll be Colorado time,” Sara added at the end, not certain her New York phone counterpart understood all that much about the way the real world worked.

Deb terminated the call as politely and quickly as she could to stop herself from saying something she would regret.

“And Matt, try not to forget that Mr. Butler will be calling you ‘Colorado time,’” Deb had repeated very earnestly at the end of her report of the conversation, her fingers scratching quotation marks in the air, her mouth turned in the barest hint of a smile. With nothing more to report, she turned to finish her work for the day back at her desk. “Her man” would just have to handle things from here.

“Good night, Deb,” Matt called after her, grinning at her recitation and at the amazing news of his old mentor. A ranch? Colorado? Wild mustangs?

That night David called Matt. They talked a long time, renewing a friendship that had meant much to Matt when he was in business school and David was an adjunct faculty member. David had taken a special interest in Matt during those earlier years, and as the younger man described in detail the problem he was facing, David quickly focused his attention.

“David, I’m up against it,” Matt concluded. “I’ve tried everything I know, but it’s not working. My tenure as a salesman was tremendously successful when it was just me on the line. Ever since my promotion, it’s like a totally different game. I’m leading a team of people,” he added for clarification. “The talent that’s on my team looks great on paper, but our results don’t show it. Potential is all I’ve got, truth be told. Raw potential,” he qualified.

“Could you come here and help me?” he concluded, his voice a plea.

After a long silence, David finally replied, “Matt, I care about what’s going on; I care about you. But I can’t come to New York.”

“We’ll make it easy for you,” Matt countered. “We’ll fly you back and forth to New York; you set the schedule.”

“Ease is not the issue. Here’s where my work is. What we accomplish here, working with . . .” David paused, searching for words.

“Wild horses,” Matt interjected, completing his former mentor’s sentence. He knew what David did.

“Sure. Wild horses are a part of it,” David agreed. “But what we really work with is what you just told me you work with: raw potential. What we accomplish here doesn’t take place in theory. I can’t do this work in principle. It happens in real time, in person. I need to be here.”

Matt’s slump was back. Horses! His mentor had lined up his priorities and given him a lovely position—just to the backside of a horse.

Another silence ensued. “Tell you what,” David said. “Why don’t you come here? On the ranch I’ve got the time you need. Bring your story and your questions, and I’ll do the best I can for you. Then go back to New York and apply what we’ve discussed. If you want, come back for more. Let’s see if we can get you some real results!”

It was agreed. Matt would draw up a consultant’s contract, though David warned him that it was going to be an unusual engagement. Matt would learn “hands-on,” as David put it, at the ranch. He’d learn by working beside David, not by sitting in a room with flip charts.

“David?” Matt asked, just before they’d hung up the phones. “What does ‘hands-on’ mean?” He tried to make the question sound jaunty, but the nervousness in his voice betrayed him.

David chuckled. “Just depends,” he answered cryptically. “You know the expression ‘hang on to your hat’? Hands are real good for that, Matt, just to give you one case in point. They’re also good for holding the reins, but maybe I’m getting a little ahead of myself. Just bring your hands,” David concluded.

“There’s a lot to touch here and a lot to love; you’ll see.”

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Endorsements

"Ten Thousand Horses brings us a stirring message of the power of trust, of love, and of hope at a time when building trust is the greatest challenge before us. We are grateful for this new resource on 'how to be a leader' for leaders across the sectors."
--Frances Hesselbein, Founder and President, Leader to Leader Institute

"Ten Thousand Horses is vitally important for leaders who want to bring out the very best in their people. Stahl-Wert and Jennings have given us another deeply moving story that offers sure-footed guidance for becoming the kind of leader people want to follow. Read this book!"
--Ken Blanchard, coauthor ofThe One Minute Manager®

"This is a book I couldn't put down. A book aimed at the heart, where all good leadership starts. Stahl-Wert and Jennings have integrated leadership, wisdom, the pain of unadopted youngsters, and the power of forgiveness--all courageously suffused in a lovely story."
--Max De Pree, Member of Fortune magazine's Hall of Fame and author of the bestselling Leadership Is an Art

"I thought I would scan the book out of courtesy, got hooked, and couldn't put it down until I had read the whole thing, made some notes, and memorized portions. It made me really want to take care of issues I am facing in my real life. The [book] is filled with gold. I want to thank God for using you to show how to take action with a plan."
--Roosevelt "Rosey" Grier, football legend, actor, author, and minister

"In this seminal work, the authors combine kids, horses, and serving leaders to reveal powerful truths that can change lives worldwide. What could be better than Ten Thousand Horses--all charging in the right direction?"
--Laurie Beth Jones, author of Jesus CEO; The Path; and The Four Elements of Success

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