Ian Jacobsen CMC Emeritus, FIMC
Contributing Writer

Persistence as a leader is a virtue — to a point. As the song goes, “You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away, and know when to run.” How do you know when you are “beating a dead horse?” 

“Dead horses” have a common characteristic: No matter what you do, you cannot bring them back to life. No matter how many veterinarians you take them to, they are dead.

As a leader, you have what you consider to be a great idea. Others believe in it, too, and encourage you. You decide to experiment. You involve interested parties, draw up your plans and implement them. Your results are underwhelming. What did you miss? So you conduct a “post mortem” and learn some things that you could have done differently. You modify your plan and try again, and again, and again. No matter what you try your results are unsatisfactory. 

Not everything that seems to be a good idea actually is. How many products or services can you think of that have languished? What happened to Betamax? Where is Visicalc today? Edsels are only in car collections. Some fell victim to the competition. Some were a solution in search of a problem. Some were because of bad timing. Some were because of faulty execution. The graveyard of failed products and services is overflowing!

How can you tell if you have a “dead horse?” Here are some indications:

  • If you have exhausted everything within your power to make something work, and it still doesn’t, you’ve got a “dead horse.”
  • If you discover that there are better alternatives to your “horse,” it is heading for the graveyard.
  • If no one can imagine a way to modify your idea or promote it more successfully, you have a “dead horse.”

Don’t despair! “Dead horses” can still be useful. So long as you have learned something from your venture it’s not a complete loss. It is just another one of life’s lessons and, hopefully, no damage was done in the process. Look for the take-aways from this lesson that will improve your chances of success for your next adventure.

Ian Jacobsen is the President of the Solvang Rotary Club and will be giving two talks about “10 Keys to Effective Leadership for Not-for-profit Organizations” at the Solvang Senior Center this month. The first is 7:30 to 8:30 p.m. on Oct. 5, and the second from 9 to 10 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 9. Contact him at iancjacobsen@gmail.com, or by phone at 408-427-4698.