Two horses were carrying two loads. The front Horse went well, but the rear Horse was lazy. The men began to pile the rear Horse’s load on the front Horse; when they had transferred it all, the rear Horse found it easy going, and he said to the front Horse: “Toil and sweat! The more you try, the more you have to suffer.” When they reached the tavern, the owner said; “Why should I fodder two horses when I carry all on one? I had better give the one all the food it wants, and cut the throat of the other; at least I shall have the hide.” And so he did.
~Fables, Leo Tolstoy, 1828-1910
There are two very important dynamics at play in this fable; one of great work ethic and one of great leadership.
Work ethic is a learned trait, meaning it is something we gain from observation and trial rather than a given skill at birth. In this fable one horse is given an extra load of work and without complaint or resentment, takes on the work and does their job. Why? Because it was a load that they could handle despite being more difficult than the original load they were given. In putting in the extra work and completing the job, the horse was recognized and rewarded for their efforts, therefore being given the chance to prove itself again with greater responsibility.
Leadership is also a learned trait and the owner of the horses acted in a fashion by which all great leaders act. First, the owner noticed the exemplary efforts of the lead horse and gave it the recognition and reward that was deserving of its actions. Secondly, the owner recognized that he had the wrong horse for the job he needed and cut ties with that horse immediately (and literally).
As employees we will be given tasks that will test us emotionally and physically where our leaders will be watching to see how we perform. We will be given extra loads sometimes where we are given the opportunity to either accept the challenge or complain about being challenged. What Tolstoy really hits on in this fable is that with opportunity comes consequence and the choice we make within the opportunity we are given can either lead to promotion or termination. What we need to take away from opportunity is that our decisions will not always be easy ones, but when we make the decision to put all of our efforts into a task, the end result will always have some type of positive undertone.
As leaders we must be able to recognize our faults and take action on them immediately or we will suffer greater in the long run. By recognizing that he had the wrong horse for the wrong job, the owner cut his losses immediately and did not have to invest more time and money into an employee who had neither the attitude nor motivation to succeed in their job. By identifying his mistake in making a bad hire and empowering his employee who did have the right attributes, the owner now put himself in a win/win situation. The first win being that he had an employee who would lead by example and the second win being that through leadership he made it very clear what his expectations as a leader are.
Minus physiological actions of the body, everything we do in life consists of traits that have been learned. If we expect excellence from ourselves then we must learn from those who are excellent. If we want to be a great employee then we must ask questions to those we deem great employees. If we plan to be great leaders then we must study those who have proven their greatness in leadership over time. If we plan to succeed in life then we must gain the skills necessary from those who are successful. Positive observation and action lead to work ethic and leadership, which ultimately distinguishes us from those that are fed well and those that are taken for their hide.