We are in the news! 5 Things Leaders Can Learn From A Horse

Posted by on Sep 7, 2016 in Blog | Comments Off on We are in the news! 5 Things Leaders Can Learn From A Horse

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5 Things Leaders Can Learn From Horses

I have been working with leaders for over thirty years and I have witnessed the A to Z in the leadership development field – from Appreciative Inquiry to Theory Z. Not much is left to surprise me. I have also become a little cynical of new fads. So it was with a large degree of scepticism that we took our team to experience Lead without Reins which is an equine assisted leadership development program.

After an initial briefing by Louise, an equine behaviourist and natural horsemanship specialist, I was asked to engage with a horse so that I could get it to do some basic things, for example, leading it around a corral. As someone who has only admired these magnificent creatures from afar, it was easier said than done. The cynicism fell away within minutes and was replaced by vulnerability. The horse refused to engage with me.  I had to put myself on the line in front of my other colleagues for them to bear witness to things that are often not openly tested in business. Here are just five lessons:

  1. My ability to get the horse to trust me, quickly. Horses are prey animals and I as a human being am a predator. We predators have eyes in the front of our head and use binocular vision, whereas horses as prey animals have eyes on the side of their head and bilateral vision. As prey animals horses are motivated by safety. Hence my ability to quickly make the horse feel safe and put its trust in me was put to the test.
  2. My emotional intelligence, in other words, being acutely aware of, controlling, and expressing my emotions. Again as prey animals, they are hyper vigilant of us. And as they don’t understand English, my use of language was redundant. Saying “Atta boy” or “nice horsey” was really for my own benefit and of zero value in my interaction with the horse. I was forced to draw on all my non-verbal forms of communication to express my emotions. Additionally to attempt to understand what the horse may be experiencing, in other words looking at myself through the horse’s eyes and how I was showing up.
  3. The genuineness of my intention. As horses are herd animals they are natural followers who prefer to follow dependable leaders. They were checking me out to ensure I could be a dependable leader through all the cues I was giving off. Again not by using words, but by going deep into my own intentions for the horse. They have an uncanny sense of picking up if your intentions may not be in their best interest.
  4. The clarity of my thinking under adverse and unnatural situations – it’s not easy being clear in your thought processes when you are out of your comfort zone in the middle of a paddock with an animal five times your size. As soon as my thinking became cluttered, the horse became confused and stopped.
  5. The type of constructive/destructive energy I was radiating. As prey animals they are sensitive to the energy that I as a predator projects and it responds accordingly.

Fascinating stuff!

Now the parallels of all of the above to leadership are obvious. Look at each point and ask yourself “does this apply to me as a leader when I am at work?”

The power of the horse to be a feedback channel on one’s leadership is something that the Lead without Reins program uses to the max.  It provides a type of feedback you are unlikely to get back at work. A horse has no concern for status or role and if you are a CEO or a cleaner it makes no difference to a horse. Whereas in organisations the dynamics of status and power permeate the feedback channel and what is often communicated is more often than not diluted and there is a decay in meaning.

Lead without Reins is an experience that is confronting, that takes you out of your comfort zone and takes you to a place of vulnerability – all critical conditions for learning.   All done in a paddock.

So the scepticism shared by my two other business partners and me at SAGe Learning washed away very quickly and the power of the learning was such that it did very much surprise us. So much so that we made the decision to bring the Lead without Reins program into our company. We are now proud to offer equine assisted leadership development as one of our leadership development offerings to all our clients.

Have a look at this video to get a sense of what it is: https://vimeo.com/173036447

And if you happen to be in Sydney, Australia on Friday 14th October 2016 you may be interested in coming to a live demonstration. You can register here: http://www.sagelearning.net.au/event-lead-without-reins/