The difference between a show pony and a workhorse

A stroll through Barnes and Noble reveals that leadership is a hot topic, as it should be.  Great companies, churches, governments and families are impossible without good leadership.  All of our lives are affected by our leaders- for better or worse.  So for that, I applaud the recent surge in leadership conferences, books, blogs, and so on.

When I took a job two years ago that allowed me the opportunity to lead a team, I did what any young leader would do, I started reading and listening to the most respected voices on the subject.  But the most profound lesson I carry with me everyday as a leader came from countless hours I used to spend with my dad as a kid selling jewelry at horse shows. (It’s still the family business to this day. I can’t make this stuff up.)  Divine inspiration comes from strange places.

At horse shows, you quickly learn that while there are countless breeds, there are really only two kinds of horses in this world.  There are show ponies… and there are workhorses.

Show ponies are a prized possession, coveted by large companies and wealthy ranch owners.  A talented horse can be a real cash cow.  I still remember a special childhood moment where I got to see a 1.3 million dollar horse, and in my family, this was like an opportunity to see the Mona Lisa.

Then there are workhorses. They pull the weight and do the gritty work. They are like the offensive line and the show pony is like the quarterback. No one stops to marvel at a workhorse.  They do not get endorsement deals for beer commercials.  They just keep working.

I think a good leader doesn’t have to be committed to reading 1000’s of books on leadership- I think they just have to be committed to being a workhorse.  I’m not talking about how much time a person works, rather what they are truly committed to.

I think the fundamental difference between a workhorse leader and a show pony leader is that the workhorse leader is more committed to doing something of importance-rather than just being seen as someone who is important. I love being in the presence of a leader who is genuinely concerned with doing important work, not spending their time jockeying for a position so that they can be seen as important.  In the presence of a workhorse leader, my guard is down and I trust that they are committed to making whatever they are apart of better. In the presence of a show pony leader, my guard is up because I am never quite sure if their priority is God’s Kingdom or their own agenda.

I think all of us want to be show ponies deep down. God’s kingdom needs more workhorses, committed to doing important work, not committed to just being seen as a person of importance.  All of us have been entrusted with something to lead.  Are you striving today to do something that is really important?