Saddle Up For Exceptional Leadership
More than three decades have passed since Affirmed won the 1978 Belmont Stakes by a nose and became (as of 2012) the last horse to capture the Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing. For the father-son team of Bob and Gregg Vanourek, the rarity of horse racing’s greatest accomplishment has an equal in the business world. The authors outline the challenge in Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations.
The book’s subtitle reveals the authors’ "three E’s," a set of imperatives to which all businesses should endlessly strive. In a book filled with references and analogies to horse racing, the pairing of organizational goals with Triple Crown events is a surprisingly good fit. It is difficult to think of the Belmont Stakes with its notoriously difficult one-and-a-half mile track and not call to mind the word endurance.
The Build-Up and the Chase
Triple Crown Leadership is divided into two sections. The first half of the book details five leadership practices. This is the equivalent of the months of care, feeding and training a horse goes through prior to starting a race. Without this detailed effort, the race is lost before the first hoof hits the track. It’s what makes the chapter "Steel and Velvet" one of the book’s best. This chapter breaks down one of the most difficult aspects of leadership: the case-by-case judgment call between being demanding versus flexible.
The second half of the book is devoted to what happens when the bugle sounds and the gates snap open. The Vanoureks’ "Leadership in Action" chapters cover everything from startups to breakdowns to turnarounds.
Executives should pay close attention to the authors’ advice and analysis in these chapters. As they point out in the book’s introduction, the Vanoureks have been involved in turnarounds where negative cash flow totaled more than $100 million per year. They fought to restore businesses that reeled in the aftermath of ethics investigations and damaging rumor mills. They have weathered adverse conditions on numerous occasions and the book is the sum total of what they’ve learned along the way.
Hidden Gems in the Crown
One unique aspect of Triple Crown Leadership is the additional features contained in the book. Readers will want to spend extra time with the material for added insights. It features a foreword written by another notable pair of authors: Stephen M.R. Covey and his late father Stephen R. Covey. The Coveys point out that it’s not what an organization does, but how it does it that makes Triple Crown Leadership such a valuable tool for leaders to absorb and adopt.
The Vanoureks also include answers to a dozen frequently asked questions, a rare supplement in the business book world. The questions tackle both the applications of the book’s concepts to a reader’s personal situation and the criticisms that may result from a closer examination of the companies profiled in its pages. This last point led the authors to devote a separate chapter to the troubled ethical standing of the horse racing industry. By owning up to the fact that even the sport of kings is far from perfect, the Vanoureks give credence to their belief that the race to be excellent, ethical and enduring is ongoing.