Making Horses Drink: A book review by Bob Morris

Making Horses Drink: How to Lead & Succeed in Business
Alex Hiam
Entrepreneur Press (2002

Note: I read and then reviewed this book when it was first published and recently re-read it. Frankly, I am even more impressed now by Alex Hiam’s use of an extended metaphor than I was then.

Creating Thirst

Long ago, I was convinced that motivation is self-generated but that it is possible to inspire others: [begin italics] to help them to motivate themselves [end italics]. That is precisely what the most effective military, political, and religious leaders have done throughout history. One of the keys is appealing to what is generally described as “enlightened self-interest.” With all due respect to charismatic leaders, those who are inspired to follow generally do so for reasons of their own.

Hiam seems to have this in mind as he explains “how to lead and succeed in business.” Obviously, the core concept in this book is based on the aphorism that “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.” A corollary to that would be something to the effect that thirst — rather than threat — is essential to the consumption of whatever “water” may be offered. At the risk of mixing metaphors, I am convinced that those who are “hungriest” to achieve whatever the goal may be generally succeed.

In the Introduction, Hiam explains that a stable represents a lot of potential energy that isn’t much use to anyone until its harnessed to some worthwhile goal and encouraged to work under good leadership.” He goes on to suggest the same is true of organizations. They may have a great bunch of people on the payroll, a winning `stable’ if you will. But without the right touch on the reins, the business produces little more than a stable full of horses. (In fact, like a stable, it actually consumes in its resting state. Anything it produces is waste product, to put it politely.)”

He then carefully organizes his excellent material within ten chapters that comprise two “Books. The first is “A Leadership Fable: The Horse Who Wouldn’t Drink”; the second is “Horse Sense: Tips and Techniques for Managers.” Each of the ten chapters corresponds to a core principle that Hiam believes all highly successful leaders apply. Moreover, each “is an important element of winning any horse race you wish your organization to enter. While they may seem like common sense, knowing when and how to apply each is a challenge.”

It would be a disservice to Hiam as well as to those who read this review for me to list the ten. Each must be carefully considered in the context within which Hiam discusses it. He begins each chapter with a boxed observation. For example:

“Make sure the horse wants to win the race too.” (Chapter 1)

“It is important to explore together. The best rides are often on unfamiliar trails.” (Chapter

“Encourage your horse to believe it is a winner. It won’t run its hardest until it does.” (Chapter 8)

I also appreciate the inclusion of a Checklist at the end of each chapter that highlights tips and techniques which will be most helpful during the process of applying the given principle. For those who are “thirsty” and “hungry” to become a more effective leader or to become a more productive member within their own “stable,” Hiam’s book is must reading.


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