Making Horse Sense

Laurel Delaney
©2003 All Rights Reserved

8 Lessons for Businesswomen
Racing to Build a New World

Knowledge is Power But Real Business Learning Comes From Horses

I read Laura Hillenbrand's thrilling story, Seabiscuit: An American Legend, and couldn't help but recognize the parallel between women in the business world and that of a great racehorse who has a fighting spirit like no other. With the film version to Ms. Hillenbrand’s book arriving in theaters momentarily, women will go galloping to see it in order to embrace the rich complexities of a subject similar to themselves.

Let’s examine eight lessons women can learn from Seabiscuit, the horse that achieved greatness while captivating our imaginations.

1. Learn your horse ... or person.
Let's face it. Women can be mysterious -- happy one day, sad the next. We can be ruthless but charming. Yet, for a woman to do well in the business world, she needs a close observer who knows her, realizes her potential, cultivates it and sees that others get out of her way to enable her success.

Women must actively identify executives who have clout in an organization and with whom they have rapport and ask them to be mentors. Mentors help women learn what goes on in boardrooms and how executives make critical decisions. In other words, a mentor must "learn the woman," for her to do well.

2. Make friends.
Just as Seabiscuit required loyal animal companions to feel safe, secure and ready to do his best, women need the same in the workplace. When you develop loyal friends, you learn how to relax and do your best work.

3. Turn your competitive instincts outward.
Competitive instincts turned outward are good, but when turned inward, are disastrous.

Why? For a horse, it happens when the jockey holds the reigns too tight. For women, it's when a person cuts her no slack and fails to provide respect, appreciation and acknowledgment of her existence in the business world.

If you loosen your grip on the horse's reigns, it is free to take off. If you, as a woman loosen your grip on "cat-fight" retaliation scenarios and stop holding yourself back because of the Old Boy's Network, you as a businesswoman are bound to take off and flourish. See an even playing field out there and go for it.

4. Do only what you want to do.
The trainer for Seabiscuit transformed him into a pliant, happy horse. How? He vouched to never again use force on the horse or to make him do what he didn't want to do. Women don't want to be told what to do. They know what to do. So assume you can do your own thing and and give other women the room to also do it.

5. Unearth your potential.
Seabiscuit learned to trust his trainer and rider, and this became the foundation for their relationship. What happened as a result? His love of running returned. So long as he was treated like a gentleman, he'd run his heart out. He acquired cool confidence. He was a new horse. Seabiscuit finally understood the game. His trainer and rider had "unearthed him."

Women want to be "unearthed" too. Put trust and faith in her hands and she will develop an undying spirit and gain an internal belief in her own abilities that can only enhance her potential to lead to victory.

6. Intimidate all.
As Hillenbrand's book states, "Where other horses relied solely on speed to win, Seabiscuit used intimidation." Women can effectively use this too. Intimidation will allow you the opportunity to overawe your opponent. Why not use it to keep them at guard and wondering what’s really going on in your mind? Even in war, you always have a competitive advantage to strike your opponent when he or she is at their weakest point. Intimidation works the same way. Use it shrewdly to get ahead.

7. Save the last reserve of courage for the end.
Hillenbrand wrote, "If he [Seabiscuit] became too absorbed in rubbing a particular horse's nose in his defeat, he risked being unable to regain his momentum when the closers came after him. Fortunately, though taunting was one of Seabiscuit's greatest pleasures, once he was challenged, the games ended. In a fight he was all business. “'Did you ever see two stallions fight?' Seabiscuit's trainer, Smith asked. 'They look about evenly matched -- most times they are -- but one of 'em has that last reserve of courage and energy which licks the other. Seabiscuit has it.'"

Women should do this too. Preserve it and pull it out at the end because freedom in this world is born from courage. For example, staying true to your vision and your mission in the face of criticism and opposition takes courage. But if you can learn to call it up when you need it, your rewards will be extraordinary.

8. Stake a claim on being unbeaten and unchallenged.
Many great racehorses from Seabiscuit to Seattle Slew to Secretariat all had something in common. They each had the desire to stake a claim on being unbeaten and unchallenged throughout the course of their careers. Women must do the same. We must speak up and have the good horse sense to own our way in life. Just like a world-class racehorse, you are going to fight your way through to the winner's circle.

In doing so, businesswomen will win the race to building a new world.

Laurel Delaney runs Global TradeSource, Ltd., a Chicago-based global marketing and consulting company and is the creator of Borderbuster, an e-newsletter that is highly regarded for its focus on global marketing. She was recently appointed Chicago chapter facilitator for Women Presidents’ Organization.

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