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May 4, 2021

I recently sat down in a meeting with a leader who was venting his frustrations to me about one of his team members.

He explained that this team member is incredibly enthusiastic and passionate about the work she is doing, but can often be kind of overbearing. This team member is constantly throwing out new ideas or seeking approval for a new system or process she has created. While grateful for her work ethic and ingenuity, this leader felt like it was putting more work on him just to keep up with her!

Listening to him share reminded me of a piece of advice David Salyers, former Vice President of Growth and Hospitality at Chick-fil-A, once shared with me: “It’s better to restrain stallions than to kick mules.

Isn’t that the truth? Most of the time, leaders are trying to figure out how to motivate the members of their team, how to connect them to the vision, and how to cultivate an ownership mentality in them. As I listened to my friend share, I understood his frustration but also knew many leaders who would die for his problem rather than the ones they typically face.

Most managers spend their time using sticks or dangling carrots to keep their teams moving forward. Either, they punish them when they don’t do what is asked or expected, or they overuse incentives to keep their team members motivated. 

But a stallion doesn’t require sticks or carrots. Stallions are intrinsically motivated to do good work out of a personal love for the vision of the organization.

You want stallions on your team.

But here is a word of caution. When you put somebody in a position who operates at a different level than you—full of ideas, enthusiasm, energy, and passion for the work—they may outrun you. You may feel like you can’t keep up, but instead of responding in frustration, the best leaders work to restrain and guide stallions to run toward a specific goal.

Though you may have to put in some work to restrain them, I can promise that having stallions on your team is worth it. 

Here’s a two-fold challenge for you today: 

First, if you’re a leader, every time a member of your team is going further or faster than you want to go, remind yourself that you’d rather retrain stallions than kick mules.

Second, in your organization, are you a stallion or a mule? If you are in the mule category, rethink what you are doing. Find a way to level-up. If you are a stallion, try to have some patience for your leaders and peers. They are grateful for you, but you may need discernment on when to push and when to slow down the pace.


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