Leadership

Winning jockey Donna Barton Brothers shares 3 traits that led to her success

NBC commentator Donna Barton Brothers rides down the front stretch before the 88th Black-Eyed Susan Stakes at Pimlico Race Course on May 18, 2012 in Baltimore, Maryland.
Matthew Stockman | Getty Images
NBC commentator Donna Barton Brothers rides down the front stretch before the 88th Black-Eyed Susan Stakes at Pimlico Race Course on May 18, 2012 in Baltimore, Maryland.

Donna Barton Brothers is an expert in the horse racing field. She rode for nearly 12 years and retired in 1998 as the second leading female jockey in the country by money earned after having won 1,171 races.

After retirement, Donna transitioned into reporting on horse racing and currently works as an on-track reporter for NBC. She is also COO of Starlight Racing and co-owner of Triple Crown Winner, Justify.

According to Barton Brothers, winning in the horse racing industry requires leadership, persistence, and finding your niche. And these are lessons that can help any leader.

When I interviewed Donna, I was intrigued by the leadership lessons she shared and how they were relevant to everyone.

Know your people (or horse) 

Horse racing requires communication, just like your job. Barton Brothers learned the importance of communication when leading her horses. Horses communicate by flicking their ears, and this information helped Barton Brothers understand what her horses liked and didn't like. She made adjustments to the way she rode by watching how her horses responded, and that made the difference in her winning races.

It's important to recognize that people respond to you as a leader too. So, you have to pay attention so you can lead them effectively.

Do you listen and respond to your team and make adjustments? As Sam Walton says, "The most powerful way to motivate people is to listen." Get to know your team. Understand what they like and don't like. And make adjustments based on what they tell you. This will help you lead a winning team too.

horse race breakout
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Confidence and persistence can open doors 

Early on, Barton Brothers was passionate about riding for Wayne Lucas, yet she had never met him before. So, she took the initiative. After winning three races at Keenland on opening day, she was the leading jockey. The next day, Barton Brothers introduced herself to Wayne. She knew he liked riding the "hot hand," so she thought he would want to meet her.

Soon Barton Brothers started hanging out in his barn, sharing her insights on his horses and asking if he needed her to ride in the morning. The answer was typically "no," until one day, a jockey didn't show up and she got the opportunity to ride. Her confidence and persistence paid off, and Barton Brothers became one of Lucas' favorite jockeys.

The takeaway: Decide on what you want and then make your intentions known. Don't give up after the first few no's. Instead, keep connecting and learning until your intentions become reality.

Find your niche

Barton Brothers' mother set the bar high for her children. She expected them to be the best at whatever they chose to do. When Barton Brothers became a broadcaster, she realized she wasn't the best at it, and this really discouraged her. Her sister helped her work through this by reminding Barton Brothers that she was the best broadcaster on horseback — no one did it better than her. This allowed her to focus on being the best in her unique niche.

If you get discouraged comparing yourself to others, how can you change your perspective by discovering your niche and being the best in your own unique way?

Knowing your people, being confident and persistent, and finding your niche are powerful leadership lessons for anyone.

David Novak created the podcast oGoLead to help people become stronger leaders. He is co-founder and former CEO of Yum! Brands and a New York Times bestselling leadership author. He has been recognized as "2012 CEO of the Year" by Chief Executive magazine, one of the world's "30 Best CEOs" by Barron's, one of the "Top People in Business" by Fortune and one of the "100 Best-Performing CEOs in the World" by Harvard Business Review.

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