Postcards

How the power players do it - by Fortune senior editor at large Patricia Sellers

Movie cowboy Buck on leadership: Taming managers is like taming horses

June 17, 2011: 3:00 PM ET

Credit: Cindy Meehl

I recently met Buck Brannaman, the star of the new documentary Buck, at a screening hosted by Tom and Meredith Brokaw. This laconic cowboy cast a spell on the former NBC anchor and his wife, who have a home in Montana and got to know him up there in horse country. Buck cast a spell on me too. He was the inspiration for the best-selling novel "The Horse Whisperer" and was Robert Redford's technical adviser on the 1998 feature film. These days, Buck crisscrosses the U.S. teaching four-day horse-training clinics and leading corporate workshops for clients like Sprint Nextel (S) and Wells Fargo (WFC). When Buck told me that taming difficult managers is a lot like taming difficult horses, I asked him if he would write a Guest Post for Postcards. Here's the horse whisperer's take on managing people:

Nine months out of the year, I travel from state to state, hosting horse clinics for troubled colts. You might not think the same techniques that I use to work with horses--non-verbal communication and cooperative effort--could be applied to human beings, but you just might be surprised. Whether you're working with horses or employees, it's not about trying to intimidate or impose your will. It's about reaching towards the understanding that if you can work together, you can both be successful. It's complicated, but here are three steps that I advise:

1. Adapt. When people come to me with horse problems, I find I'm usually helping the horse with people problems. It's the horse's owner that typically needs to adapt to shape the horse into a winner. With horses and employees, resist casting them in an unflattering light, as if they're some stubborn animal in need of breaking. They need assurance and confidence. If you have an idea, let it become their idea.

2. Detach. Some people call this "conflict resolution" because humans are inclined to see conflict when they encounter a strong will. My advice: Don't take it personally. You might think you're pretty important, but don't flatter yourself. You're not so important to the horse. If the horse was bucking you off, it's because you put him in a position where he felt a need to defend himself. Remember the old saying, "He who angers me, owns me."

3. Dance. Think of the horse as your partner. And it's all one great dance. That's not to say it's always going to be easy or you won't have to work through  issues. But when a horse is troubled or uncomfortable in our world, rather than show contempt for him, you must demonstrate empathy and work to convince him that you mean him no harm. You have some things that you'd like him to do with you--as opposed to for you. And the best way to do that is as partners.

All that said, remember, there's no formula. No two creatures, be they horse or human, are alike.

Join the Conversation
Fortune's Most Powerful Women
Fortune's Most Powerful Women For the latest on the most influential women in business, philanthropy, government, and the arts, like us on Facebook.
Guest Posts
Fortune Most Powerful Women Fortune Most Powerful Women The rolodex that redefined power
Profile in The Washington Post
Sheryl Sandberg: Sheryl Sandberg: Don't leave before you leave
COO of Facebook
Wendy Clark Wendy Clark Exec learns firsthand how the homeless live
SVP of the Global Sparkling Brand Center at Coca-Cola
Video
Marissa Mayer's 3 biggest decisions as Yahoo CEO With company stock up over 100% since she began running the company 16 months ago, Mayer reflects on her choices to date. Watch
Chelsea Clinton on running for office: 'I don't know' The vice chairman of the Clinton Foundation talks about her diverse career path and growing up in the spotlight. Watch
About This Author
Pattie Sellers
Pattie Sellers
Senior Editor at Large, Fortune
Executive Director of MPW/Live Content, Time Inc.

Pattie Sellers has written more than 20 Fortune cover stories including "Marissa Mayer: Ready to Rumble at Yahoo," "Muhtar Kent's New Coke," "Oprah's Next Act", "The $100 Billion Woman" (Melinda Gates), and "Gone with the Wind" (Ted Turner). She co-founded Fortune Most Powerful Women and oversees the Fortune MPW Summit, the preeminent gathering of women leaders in business and beyond—and programs such as Fortune MPW Entrepreneurs and the Fortune-U.S. State Department Global Women Leaders Mentoring Partnership. Pattie also develops Live Content across Time Inc. Her blog, Postcards, is about how power players lead and navigate their careers. Pattie won Time Inc.'s prestigious MVP award for her performance in 2012.

Email Pattie Sellers | Welcome to Postcards.
Follow Pattie | email newsletter
MPWomen go Global

The Fortune/U.S. State Department Global Women Leaders Mentoring Partnership brings rising-star women from countries around the world to the U.S. for three-week mentorships with participants of the annual Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit - among them Ursula Burns of Xerox, Laura Lang of Time Inc., Marissa Mayer of Yahoo, and Tory Burch.

Read more

Current Issue
  • Give the gift of Fortune
  • Get the Fortune app
  • Subscribe
Powered by WordPress.com VIP.