Mules and Mustangs

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Former CEO of Chick-Fil-A Jimmy Collins, in his book “Creative Followership” introduced a metaphor to demonstrate two types of organizational contributor…Mules and Mustangs.
I have taken this metaphor and developed it further to demonstrate followers (we, first as followers as well as those that we lead) within our organizations and team.

Define the designations:

Mules - Team members who reluctantly and stubbornly plod the same path and require constant pushing.
Mustangs - Team members who live and work on the edge of their authority and occasionally beyond.
Jimmy Collins - “It is better to restrain mustangs than kick mules”.
So true!!! Trying to push someone who has no motivation, no passion, no desire to excel and progress is so much more difficult than to make corrections and put a few boundaries and reign things in a little for someone that is passionate and motivated.
There are Holy Ghost filled mules that will make it to heaven, but they will frustrate the life out of us as leaders if we try to put them in the wrong roles in leadership.

Characteristics of Mules and Mustangs

Individuals that either lack motivation or are very difficult to get to respond to motivation.
Moved by extrinsic motivation. (i.e. Promotions, rewards, reprimands, warning, etc…)
Prefer to plod the same path and generally prefer isolation.
Mules cannot reproduce. They are a mixed breed between a donkey and a horse and due to chromosome mismatches, they are sterile.
If we can consolidate these characteristics into a brief list of characteristics: Stubborn, Extrinsically motivated, methodical, sterile.
If we could identify mules in the scripture, the children of Israel in the Wilderness would be a great example. They are constantly having to be rebuked and disciplined. They plod the wilderness in circles because of their doubt…and an entire generation has to die before they are able to move forward.
Many of these same qualities are evident in the Old Testament KingSaul. (extrinsically motivated)
The positive qualities of a mule would be that they are sure-footed and they are strong.
these are not the sort of leaders that are going to blaze trails, demonstrate innovation, nor develop other leaders.
2. Mustangs
While mules are content to dwell alone in the isolated pen of extrinsic motivation, Mustangs are usually found eagerly stirring at the gate of intrinsic motivation.
Mustangs usually run with the herd.
Mustangs, once broken, are great horses that occasionally need to be reigned in.
Looking to the scripture, David was without a doubt a mustang.
Matthew 12:3–4 NASB95
3 But He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he became hungry, he and his companions, 4 how he entered the house of God, and they ate the consecrated bread, which was not lawful for him to eat nor for those with him, but for the priests alone?
1 Samuel 17:26–29 NASB95
26 Then David spoke to the men who were standing by him, saying, “What will be done for the man who kills this Philistine and takes away the reproach from Israel? For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should taunt the armies of the living God?” 27 The people answered him in accord with this word, saying, “Thus it will be done for the man who kills him.” 28 Now Eliab his oldest brother heard when he spoke to the men; and Eliab’s anger burned against David and he said, “Why have you come down? And with whom have you left those few sheep in the wilderness? I know your insolence and the wickedness of your heart; for you have come down in order to see the battle.” 29 But David said, “What have I done now? Was it not just a question?”
2 Samuel chapter 7 and 1 Chronicles 22:6-8
1 Chronicles 22:6–8 NASB95
6 Then he called for his son Solomon, and charged him to build a house for the Lord God of Israel. 7 David said to Solomon, “My son, I had intended to build a house to the name of the Lord my God. 8 “But the word of the Lord came to me, saying, ‘You have shed much blood and have waged great wars; you shall not build a house to My name, because you have shed so much blood on the earth before Me.

Which would lead us to at least introduce a third category of follower…the maverick.

Maverick cannot be restrained or controlled.
David overstepped a few times, but he was correctable.


1. Mules: Extrinsic motivation vs. Mustangs: Intrinsic Motivation
As leaders, leading those that we are constantly having to reprimand or reward in order to get them to move or keep them from jumping off a cliff, is exhausting.
Extrinsic motivation is not sustainable. Because intrinsic motivation comes from within, it is sustainable.
I have a key leader that whose potential is through the roof. Talented, charismatic, outgoing personality, highly trained leaders…his upside is tremendous…but at least twice a year I have to sit down with him and have a major come to Jesus meeting…or a pep rally…one of the two.
In the scripture, we look at two men that were side by side in similar circumstances. Simon and Judas. Simon was intrinsically motivated. He was passionate…sometimes a little too much (see the example of him cutting off the guards ear)…but he was driven by an inward passion. Judas was driven by extrinsic motivations. It was always about the money with Judas.
2. Mules: Unwilling to take risks vs. Mustangs: Eager to move forward
I ask my leaders regularly to do 3 things. in fact just last week I asked them to do it again for 2023. Identify one activity or event that they have that needs to die. (a vine that isn’t bearing fruit and needs to be pruned); Identify one effort that needs to be started (a need that is waiting for a solution); identify one area that needs to be adjusted - Something that is good but it could be better.
Don’t put a mule over a ministry or an assignment that you are expecting growth in. When the master came back, he didn’t give more talents to the guy that buried his talent…he gave it to the servant that was willing to take a risk.
3. Mules: Don’t take initiative vs. Mustangs: Self-motivated to grow and take on responsibility
I love leaders in the bible like Joshua, Elisha and David. These men willingly served before they were anointed to lead.
Joshua is first introduced as the servant of Moses
Elisha is mentioned as the one that poured water on the hands of Elijah
David privately took care of his fathers sheep before he ever accomplished anything publically .
You can identify mustangs in the making, by the way that they serve others.
4. Mules: Difficult to lead vs. Mustangs: Easily led by clear and compelling vision.
We will talk about this here in a moment. But I will say this for now…sometimes, as leaders, we make mules out of mustangs…we minimize the leadability of others because we cast unclear and uncompelling vision.
5. Mules: Favors isolation and avoids engagement vs. Mustangs: Seeks to share ideas and learn from others
Mules just want to do their thing. They don’t have time for thins like brainstorming and idea sharing. Those are a waste of time.
And this isn’t about introvert and extrovert…this isn’t a personality trait…its a leadership trait.

The 3 C’s of engagement

When you place yourself into an environment that has the potential to raise you to new heights, don’t just sit back and be a spectator. Find ways to join your strengths and capabilities with the abilities of others around you. Engage your talents. Engage your creativity.
Be agreeable. Look to enhance others and to partner with others.
President John F. Kennedy provided one of the greatest phrases for democracy when he stated “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”. The president understood that the nation climbs higher when there is a contributing outlook, and when the nations rises, so do the citizens. When you seek to give…to supply and to source…the whole rises higher…and therefore, you do as well.
6. Mules: Problem focused vs. Mustangs: Solution focused
Anyone can find a problem. Leaders should find solutions.
7. Mules: Sterile vs. Reproducing
Sterile (not contributing to the future of the organization) vs. Mustangs: Eager to multiply their efforts and contribute to the future.
Soccer player Tony Adams stated “Play for the name on the front of the shirt, and they will remember the name on the back.”
8. Mules: Sure-footed and strong.
Having mules in a position that you simply need to maintain, not to grow.
They make great placeholders. (think the steward that was given one talent)…when the master came back…he still had one talent.

Growing from a mule to a mustang:

1. Don’t settle.
Mules wear a path…they walk the same trail over and over. Avoid getting into ruts…Nothing wrong with routines…But don’t let your routines keep you from running when the gate is opened.
Author Lisa Parsons stated “A routine is a set of healthy habits that brings you fulfillment, growth, stability in chaos, and a sense of achievement. A rut is where that routine becomes a safety net that stops you from seizing spontaneous opportunities when they arise.”
don’t allow your path within the corral keep your from a desire and a vision that there is more outside of the gate!
2. Get clear on the vision:
There are many reluctant mules…mules not of their own making. They are hesitant to move forward because they are not clear on expectations.
Don’t allow ambiguous vision to rob you of your spirit of adventure and your hunger to grow and the achieve.
3. surround yourself with mustangs:
You will run at the pace of those that surround you. The mule is stubborn and reluctant…but the truth is they have a horse in them…they are half horse, but that nature won’t come out unless you get them around other horses.
My father in-law would get that mule up next to a horse that was galloping and that mule would want to keep up with the horse.
You are the cumulative of your 5 closes friends.
4. Be intentional about duplicating yourself.
While a mule (animal) doesn’t possess the ability to reproduce…as leaders, we have a choice.
We can choose to invest in the development of others.
We can choose to invest in the future of the organization.
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