Donna is an expert in the horse racing field. She rode for 11 ½ 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 Donna 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) so you can lead them well.
Horse racing requires communication, just like your job requires it. Donna learned the importance of communication when leading her horses. Horses communicate by flicking their ears, and this information helped Donna 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 the late Sam Walton used to say, 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.
Confidence and persistence can open doors for you.
Donna was passionate about riding for Wayne Lucas, yet she never met him before. So, she took the initiative to meet him. After winning three races at Keenland on opening day, she was the leading jockey. The next day, Donna introduced herself to Wayne and made her intentions known by saying, “Hello Mr. Lucas. My name is Donna Barton. I won three races here yesterday and I know that you are in the habit of riding the hot hand, and right now, that’s me. I was pretty sure you were gonna want to meet me.”
This single introduction wasn’t enough to get her riding in his barn. Donna 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 Donna became one of Wayne’s favorite jockeys.
Are you confident and persistent? Decide on what you want and then make your intentions known. Don’t give up after the first few nos. Instead, keep connecting and learning until your intentions become reality.
Instead of comparing yourself to others, find your niche.
Donna’s mother set the bar high for her children. She expected them to be the best at whatever they chose to do. When Donna became a broadcaster, she realized she wasn’t the best at it when she compared herself to other well-known broadcasters like Diane Sawyer. This knowledge really discouraged her.
Her sister helped her work through this by reminding Donna that she was the best broadcaster on horseback – no one did it better than her. Donna used this insight to reframe her perspective and celebrate the unique things she brings to the news, like capturing the emotion of jockeys after finishing a race before the emotion has time to go away and providing real time updates on delays because she’s where the action is. This allowed Donna to focus on being the best in her unique niche.
Do you get discouraged by 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. You have the power to become the best leader you can be if you’re willing to take action on what you learn. It’s time for you to Go Lead!
If you enjoyed these leadership lessons, you don’t want to miss my podcast with Donna where she shares more insight on horseracing, winning, and leading. Listen to it here.