GNcareers, from Gulf News

Why business heads cannot stop at just charting a course

Why business heads cannot stop at just charting a courseImage Credit: Supplied

Intrigued by the idea that leaders pick hobbies reflecting their leadership habits, I asked an award-winning equestrian rider, who is also a leading Emirati businessman, ''What have you learnt about leading from your hobby?''

An equestrian endurance race is the equivalent of a marathon in the running world. It is a gruelling race over natural terrain — you could say a cross-county ''trail'' and it lasts upwards of 10 hours, depending on how good of a rider you are.

Hours into the physically challenging 160-kilometre race, sitting atop a horse, it is tempting for even the most seasoned jockey to be distracted by what is happening around him. There are periodic and required veterinary checks along the course to make sure the horse is still in good health and fit to continue. Because of the nature of the sport, every caution is taken to ensure the safety and health of the horses.

The mandatory maximum allowable heart rate is typically 60 beats per minute. This acts like a throttle on how hard the rider can push his horse. During the checks, if the horse's heart rate exceeds the maximum target, then the rider has to wait for it to drop. All the while, the rider's time keeps running.

The care necessary to make sure the horse is riding hard but not breaking is of foremost concern for a rider. After all, horses love to run and they want to run hard. But it is the jockey's role to know just how hard the horse can do so without breaking.

It's the same for a leader, you have to know exactly how hard you can push your employees without them breaking and then make sure they work at their peak. Too hard and they'll break. Not enough and they'll get soft and lose their motivation.

Therefore, the rider must have a great knowledge of pace, knowing when to slow down or speed up, as well as a great knowledge of their horse's condition and signs of tiring.

In a marathon, there are water stations every five kilometres, so the runner can grab a drink to combat dehydration. While there are water stops along the trail in an endurance race, interestingly, the rider gives the water first to the horse to cool him down. The welfare of the horse is paramount. Another great leadership point — take care of your people first.

The leadership point that resonated most with me is ''where you look, your horse will go''. As a jockey you must stay 100 per cent focused on your destination. Ten hours on the back of the horse and you cannot lose focus. Through all of the distractions and requirements you must stay focused. There is no time to enjoy the scenery if you want to win.

Usually, riders are given a map or GPS way points for the course, which shows the route, the places for compulsory halts and any natural obstacles (such as ditches, steep hills, and water crossings). This is your guide map to win the race. Then the work of the leader kicks in — to stay focused on the course.

In business, where you look, so will your employees. And when they shift their focus, problems with execution emerge. Like the rider who shifts his focus and costs him a victory, when you lose focus, achieving your goals is at risk.

Distractions along the race can detract from crossing the finish line first. In a typical horse race, the horse wears blinkers, also known as blinders. But blinkers are not enough. The horse actually takes its cue from the jockey. Where the jockey looks, he leans — even so slightly, so that the horse goes in that direction.

So instead of the blinders being on the horse, the rider needs them as well. Their aim is to keep focus — not to look back or to the side. The leader is just like the rider who keeps his horse focused.

Where the leader looks, the followers also do.

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Source: Dr. Tommy Weir, Special to

The writer is a leadership adviser and author of '10 Tips for Leading in the Middle East' and other writings