Turning a Passion into a National Equestrian Championship

When you hear the word “equestrian,” what do you think of? The average person would probably think of the Kentucky Derby, old fashioned cowboys, or taking a pony ride at the carnival. In reality, it’s much more than that. I asked this question around our office and it was practically unanimous—horses and Katherine. That’s right, our beloved Katherine Kirby is an equestrian. For Katherine, showing horses is much more than a hobby—it’s led her to multiple national equestrian championships. Along with receiving many other awards this year, Katherine brought home a first place prize for Arabian Country English Pleasure as well as becoming the Arabian Country English Pleasure Champion.

Katherine started riding at age 8, and hasn’t looked back. “My grandpa Bill was a West River cowboy, and always had a string of horses that he’d ride into the Badlands. I loved nothing more than spending time on his horse farm, and took every chance I had to visit him in Wall and be with his horses,” Katherine said. Her parents found a farm called Performance Plus Arabians outside of town that gave lessons on Arabians and Quarter horses. After a year of lessons, they bought their first horse and began competing. Almost 20 years later, she and her family have begun a small breeding program, putting their home-bred horses into the competition circuit. They currently have a 3-year-old foal that’s going into training for the first time and two babies being born this month.

What does this have to do with anything?

Katherine has been competing in horse shows for over 20 years. Her favorite horse is her 11-year-old Gelding, CP Shenanigan. “I’ve been riding for so long and I’ve dreamt about horses like him, never truly believing I would have one. He is definitely my horse of a lifetime,” Katherine said. “I know I may never have another one like him. He is everything you would want in a horse. He is beautiful, full of attitude, competitive, and willful.” Shenanigan became part of the Kirby family as a two-year-old, and Katherine and Shenanigan have been competing together for nearly seven years.

Katherine and Shenanigan compete in an equestrian championship

Katherine and her horse, Shenanigan, competing in an equestrian championship.

Her nine horses train in Mantua, Ohio at the Stachowski Farm. They train year round, with light workouts from November to March to keep them in good shape. In competition, judges will look for muscle definition and general fitness of the horse, eloquence and grace, ability, competitiveness, and obedience. Katherine joins her horses often, using her weekends to travel down and train with them herself. The show season begins in February at Scottsdale, Arizona, and then preparation for Regionals starts in the summer. The regional championships qualify each horse for the Arabian U.S. National Championships in the fall.

This year Katherine spent 11 days, from February 15-25, in Scottsdale, Arizona, with two horses to compete in the 63rd annual Arabian Horse Show, which is the largest Arabian horse show in the world. She and her horses competed alongside 2,400 other entries and took home two first place awards and two second place awards.

One of the core values of MJM is curiosity and the MJM team is made up of incredibly curious people, with Katherine’s passion for horses only scratching the surface. We love you, Katherine! Thank you for being a part of the MJM team.


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Good Reads from 2017

Powerful Leadership Through Empathy

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”

― Author and Speaker, Simon Sinek,“Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t”

As a leader here at MJM, I’m constantly challenged to grow my skills and knowledge around how to lead, what it means to lead, and how I can lead others in a way that motivates and inspires them.

But nothing has been more important than learning to lead through empathy.

Leading through empathy means we as leaders must not focus solely on the output of our teams (including the behaviors and actions they demonstrate), but that we listen to, try to understand and truly care about the hearts of our employees.

What is Empathy?

The concept of empathy is one that often gets thrown in with others words like “sympathy,” but it’s actually quite different.

The Oxford dictionary says:

Empathy means “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another,” whereas sympathy means “feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune.”

We can be sympathetic for team members when it warrants, but creating an inspiring, highly motivated work environment where team members feel valued and heard requires us to get to know each other and practice this skill of being empathetic.

Be the Example

“You share with the people who have earned the right to hear your story.”

― Author, scholar and speaker, Brené Brown, “Daring Greatly” and “The Power of Vulnerability”

Whether you’re building a new team or you’ve been working with the same staff for years, at some point you, as the leader, are going to need to recognize that earning your team’s trust is more important than anything else you do as a leader.

It’s a basic human principle, really, that we all want to be understood, heard and valued. Whether they ask for it directly, retreat when it’s not given to them, or complain to co-workers when they feel they aren’t being heard—every member of your team has the innate desire to be understood, heard and valued, and they all have different ways of asking for it.

When I find myself being too busy with my own tasks and responsibilities to notice and provide feedback, schedule time to listen intently, or ask (and truly listen) to how they’re feeling, I’m missing out on the opportunity to pour into and better understand my team members. Not only that, but I’m missing out on the benefits of building fulfilling relationships and trust with them as well. That’s all me—I’m losing out by focusing on the wrong things (tasks, not people).

How do you earn your team’s trust and the right to hear their stories?

Earning the right to hear your team’s stories and opening the door to being empathic starts by you being real. It’s hard to be vulnerable or admit faults as a leader ― there’s a lot of stigma that leaders have to know it all, that they’ve got it all figured out. But hiding behind a façade and wearing the mask of perfection is harmful and keeps leaders from connecting in more meaningful ways, as well as keeping teams from trusting their leaders and wanting to do their best. In fact, one of the number one reasons people leave a job is because of problems with their direct supervisor.

What Can You Do?

Share your stories. Allow your imperfections to show. Be honest about where you need to grow. Apologize when you’re wrong. Lead by example. Listen without waiting for your turn to speak. Show others you truly care about them, not just their work.

No matter what role you play in your company—owner, manager, team member or consultant—you have the opportunity to lead and inspire others. Approach all people with the desire to seek first to understand, and then to be understood. By being yourself and allowing others to be themselves you can inspire the hearts and minds of so many—and truly be an effective leader.

“There are only two ways to influence human behavior: you can manipulate it or you can inspire it.”

― Simon Sinek

Why Do Your Mission, Vision and Values Matter?

A good leader knows that in order to lead a project, people need to know why they are working, how they are working and who they need to be as part of the team. This is why we must focus on our mission, vision and core values.

Mission Statement

What is a mission statement? Look around online and you will find many definitions for mission statements. A summary definition would be this: Why do you exist? Why are you in business? Answering these questions is central to writing your mission statement. At MJM, we often speak of “commission” rather than “mission.” A commission not only identifies what you are doing, but why you are doing it. So what is your commission? What have you been commissioned to do with your life and your business?

Vision Statement

Going deeper, your vision statement should paint a picture of where your business will be when it is wildly successful. Your vision should be bold, inspiring and paint a clear image of what will make you successful. It’s okay if, in some way, your vision statement is not actually attainable. But it must be an inspiring and powerful image that helps people see where you are going.

For example, the vision at Vance Thompson Vision is “Best on Earth.” Now, measuring whether they are actually the best on earth can be tricky, and they are not able to be best on earth in everything—only in their areas of specialty. However, regardless of whether “Best on Earth” is measurable and attainable, it definitely allows staff and patients to clearly envision where they are headed as a business and what they aspire to be. That is the power and importance of a vision statement—it paints a picture of success that is motivating and inspiring.

Core Values

Of these three foundational items, your core values may be the most important. They certainly will be the most important for your daily operations as a business. In simple terms, your core values define the way you operate and exist and live as a business. They are the values you make decisions by, the values you hire and fire by and the values that set the culture of your business.

Your core values should be very memorable for all staff. Ideally, you will be able to reduce your core values down to three to five words or short phrases. These core values only have power if you actually live by them, make decisions based on them and champion them within your staff and customer base. Choosing the right core values will make your decision-making easier and bring much clarity to your business.

These core values only have power if you actually live by them, make decisions based on them and champion them within your staff and customer base.

Perhaps the hardest part of finalizing your mission, vision and values is coming to agreement with your leadership team on the final version of these items. There are so many good reasons we exist and so many great values we want to embody! Many groups have a hard time editing down their content and ideas to the most vital and actionable statements. But this editing and simplifying process is vital.

Your mission, vision and values need to be short, inspirational and actionable. Don’t give up on editing and building these vital statements until you finalize them in forms your entire team can live with and execute. Spending time as a team discussing, debating and agreeing upon a clear and powerful mission, vision and values can power your business to new clarity and new success.

8 Things a Jazz Quartet Can Teach Us About Team Culture

My wife and I recently had the privilege of attending an intimate performance by a world-renowned jazz quartet. As we enjoyed the music, the environment, and the experience, I realized how the same factors create a powerful jazz performance and a powerful team business culture. Let’s look at eight ways jazz can teach us about team culture.

1. Purpose

We entered the small jazz club—the lights were low, the tables scattered throughout the small venue, the instruments waiting expectantly on the stage. As I reviewed the program for the evening, I marveled at the clarity of purpose of each of the musicians; their education, their passion, their blood, sweat, and tears all coming together in that moment with the sole purpose of creating beautiful music together. Businesses that discuss and emphasize their team purpose and the purposes of each of their staff create a powerful identity that can power their culture.

2. Preparation

As I reviewed the program, two of the musicians walked on stage and began preparing for the show. One at the piano, the other on upright bass, they began to methodically tune the instruments to create the perfect sound. How many times had they done this simple preparation? What seems like a mundane task is actually essential preparation for their performance that night. Team culture that focuses on proper preparation enables the entire team to produce their best work.

3. Inter-Connectedness

After tuning their instruments, the rest of the musicians came on stage and the group began to play. Slowly at first, the group eventually found their rhythm and worked their way into the first song. The most important part of this first song was the inter-connectedness of the quartet—the piano player intently watching the rhythm of the drummer; the bass player watching the energy and flow of the piano; the saxophone player watching all three instruments to join the pace of the music. Without awareness, without this inter-connectedness, the music cannot reach its pinnacle. Team culture built on inter-connectedness is vital to getting projects and great work off the ground and accomplished.

4. Harmony

As the music quickly ramped up, it became apparent immediately how years of preparation and dedication helped create this harmonious, synergized sound. Each of the instruments blending together with the others created perfectly timed, perfectly matched sound. How does your team culture create harmony between the players? Does your preparation and connectedness create the best possible synergy of work?

5. Space to Shine

The beauty of jazz music is not only it’s synergy, but also it’s space for improvisation. The tenor saxophone player sits down, eyes closed, soaking in the music. The drummer brings the rhythm down to a steady, subtle backdrop. The bass player joins him, creating a repeating baseline, which allows the piano player to roam. His fingers fly over the keys, exploring new spaces, taking years of training and the support of his fellow players and finding new music. As he concludes his exploration, the bass player tries a new riff, playing faster, then slower, then with more energy. Finally, the drummer has his chance to shine as a solo player, raising the energy of the audience to new heights. There is space in jazz for individuals to shine and to grow. Does your team culture offer individuals a chance to shine and grow?

6. Communication

Suddenly, with barely a noticeable look of the eyes and nod of the head, the drummer brings the entire quartet back into the original song. Over the course of the entire performance, I was in awe of the way a look, a nod, a turn of the head, or a simple hand gesture could communicate in depth the next move of the performance. How does your team communicate? Does each member of your team understand the cues, the signals that you share to move on and produce the next great work?

7. Trust

Within these levels of inter-connectedness and communication, I was struck by yet another core value of the performance—trust. Every member of the quartet must trust their fellow players to keep the rhythm, to stay within the song, to stay on pitch. If one player loses the rhythm, the entire synergy is lost. Likewise, if your team fails to execute consistently, projects will be incomplete and deadlines missed. Your team culture must be one of trust. If your team members do not trust each other to do their jobs, you will not be successful as a business. So, do you have trust within your team?

8. Energy

Finally, my experience of this jazz performance reminded me of the importance of energy and response in our team cultures. The players feed off of the energy of each other, the audience, and the songs themselves. You can see the players getting lost in the power of the moment and In the emotion of the song. The energy we give each other on our team, along with the energy of the work itself, is vital to doing our best work. Are you responding to the energy of your team? Is the work that you do getting your team the energy it needs to create a powerful, vital culture?

When these team culture conditions exist, jazz shows us that it’s possible to create consistent performance, dynamic improvisation and new innovation. If these are your goals as a company, then take these ideas to heart and invest in your team culture.