We can learn a lot about leadership from householders. They show us the importance of leading from behind. Many associate leadership success with fame, fortune recognition, and scores of admiring followers. But we must remember the inspirational instruction from these vital leaders who are often alone and nearly undetectable.
Horseholders perform essential duties on a battlefield. During combat, the noise from cannons and guns would spook the hoofed infantry causing them to run away from their riders to safety. These loyal horsemen would stand in the rear dutifully clutching the reins preserving this most valuable battle commodity.
Leading from behind describes a leadership style that puts others first. It understands the value of nurturing and taking care of followers. It accomplishes much while taking credit for very little. These leaders are dependable, trustworthy, and extremely competent. They perform like the quarterback who throws the winning touchdown pass but acts like a cheerleader encouraging and praising the victorious receiver.
The poem The General’s Mount: a Poem on General Forrest’s Horse describes a Civil War general’s horse, and in it we see the horse holder’s bittersweet perspective of service and duty:
Stunned and trembling
From the shock and pain.
Jaded. Limping to the holders in the rear.
No bugles and no drumbeats here,
Only fading sounds across the field.
THE HOLDERS slipped the bridle
From his lowered head,
Wiped the sweat marks from his cheeks and neck.
Bathed the blood-red foam from mouth and nostrils,
Sponged his wounds,
Applied a stinging ointment.
They washed his knees and hocks and pasterns.
Ancient philosopher Lao Tzu describes them as the best leader who people do not notice.
“When the best leader’s work is done, the people say, ‘We did it ourselves!’ To lead the people, walk behind them.”
Maybe the world and the workplace need more horse holders –these unsung heroes who are critical in every victorious battle and standing in the rear.