Task checklist: How is this different? How is this the same?

When I was a boy, we bought a pony from a friend of mine. It was accompanied with a nice saddle. The pony was chestnut brown with a light brown mane, hence her name, Chestnut. We weren’t very imaginative with farmyard animal names.

It was fun to ride her across our 60-acre farm and pretend I was transported back almost two hundred years to when the first settlers started streaming into the Ohio country.

Shortly after purchase, she began testing our fences, which were adequate for cows but deficient for a curious pony. A couple of times Mom had us called out of classes at school because an irate neighbor found Chestnut chowing down on his garden. Each time we repaired the gap in the fence and hoped the problem was fixed.

One summer day, I convinced my sister, Sylvia, to try her hand at riding the pony. We had a half acre piece of ground that was fenced and I thought it a good, contained area for a safe ride. I placed the bit in Chestnut’s mouth and arranged the saddle. As I tightened the girth straps, I failed to notice she had taken in a great deal of air to keep the straps loose. She often did this requiring me to tighten the straps a second time. I was so excited to give Sylvia the riding experience I enjoyed so much that I skipped the second tightening.

I intertwined my fingers to fashion a step and boosted Sylvia onto Chestnut. I reviewed the maneuvering of the reins to control the pony and off she went. The pony followed the fence and in the first corner at the far side of the field, Chestnut made a sharp right turn. To my horror, Sylvia and the saddle slid off. My brothers, Mom, and I ran to her as quickly as possible. During our sprint, I feared the worst. By the time we reached her, Sylvia was up with only bruises for her trouble. As far as I know, it was the last pony ride she ever took.

Eventually, Chestnut during one of her escapes found a feed bin I had left open and ate until she was foundered. Leaving an open feed bin was a cardinal sin in Dad’s mind. I didn’t realize the true danger until this event.

We learned that ponies have different requirements than other barnyard stock. One must invest in fences or pay the price in deteriorating relationships with neighbors. Ponies can also be tricky as with the puffing up they tend to do.

People get set in patterns or mental models of how they go about their work. Our fences were good enough (most of the time) for cows but not for ponies. Leaders who test their mental models when novel events occur may be able to anticipate failures. If we expect new experiences to always follow the trends of the past, we may very well be surprised and disappointed. Ask yourself the questions, “How is this the same and how is it different?” These questions could help you avoid some negative outcomes.

R. Glenn Ray, Ph.D., is the president of RayCom Learning. To learn more about Ray’s completely revised, third printing of The Facilitative Leader: Behaviors that Enable Success, visit his Web site, www.raycomlearning.com or call him at 740-629-4536. Everyday Leadership appears each Wednesday on the Business page.