Be Patient. Be Cool. “The Horse May Learn to Sing.”

Updated: Mar 6, 2020

“A wretched soul, bruised with adversity.”

The Comedy of Errors, Wm. Shakespeare

We have all had tough, difficult bosses. Even crazy ones.

We weathered them because we either performed up to expectations or the boss came around to accepting unforeseen obstacles or he had an epiphany and whatever bug was up his guess-what disappeared miraculously.

Sometimes we might have been that boss. I shudder to think of my own inadequacies supervising stellar employees.

But once or twice a career there is a boss who is just plain nuts, who cannot be satisfied or reasoned with or becomes unmanageable.

Yes, we should work to manage our bosses – especially their expectations.

We know that the recalcitrant boss can ruin a year’s work of careful nurturing and preparation, or can kill your ambitions, or may make you quit.

Be patient. Be cool.

A story I have told peers and friends and subordinates for years is called “The Horse May Learn to Sing.” It is not original. I stole it shamelessly, and like all great stories it belongs to someone unnamed and unknown. It goes like this…

There once was a great kingdom led by a small minded, unintelligent, and nasty king. He hated his subjects, demanded blind loyalty, and routinely executed his serfs for the smallest infraction. But he loved, obsessively, his horse. The king spent half his day in court meting out justice and many more hours gazing upon his prized stallion.

While holding court one day a serf accused of stealing was brought before the angry king.

“Do you have anything to say before you are executed?” Spat the king.

“Yes, your majesty! If you allow me one year, I swear, I can teach your horse to sing!” The serf said, shaking.

The king harrumphed. “If you teach my beautiful horse to sing, I will make you a free man. If you don’t, you will be executed. You have a year!”

The serf was given the reins and he walked with the beast to the stable.

A groomsman, just a boy, quietly said to the serf, “Horses can’t sing, man. Why would you make such a promise?”

The serf smiled. “Son, a lot can happen in a year. The king could die. I could die. The horse may die… or, the horse may learn to sing!”

Do you have an insane, hateful, nasty boss? Try not to let your ego get in the way of your judgment. Most of us need the job we have. No matter how bleak it looks, keep chopping wood.

Be patient. Be cool. Do your job, first and foremost.

Wait him out. Or her. The Horse May Learn to Sing!

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(c) 2019 Kevin Horgan,

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FROM THE CORPS TO CORPORATE and Points in Between... is a series of personal musings using the Leadership Principles and Qualities of the USMC, through my eyes and experiences.  I had a wide variety of successes and failures both large and small, and perhaps you will see yourself or others in the opinions herein.

I am a retired UPSer, having spent a fast 33 years with the organization.  I served in management positions in engineering, operations, and as an attorney in real estate.  I started law school

and loading trucks for Big Brown on the same day in 1984.

Before UPS, I served as an infantry officer in the Marine Corps.

That experience was the great privilege of my life.

I was nothing special:  I deployed, but was never shot at!

I have written two historical novels on the Civil War, THE MARCH OF THE 18TH, and THE MARCH OF THE ORPHANS.



I have a political blog using a fictional character that spanned from January to August 2019. (See 

If you like this work, please share.  Your comments are always welcome!