A wet, cold, cloudy day in an English field learning leadership lessons from horses.
Sounds fun 😉 It was!
I am part of a leadership development group that met 5 years ago and every year we reunite to connect, engage and grow ourselves as leaders. This year with the help of Jude Jennison, and her herd, we learned lots.
Back to the horses. To be clear, we were beside the horses, not on top of them. Said another way, we didn’t ride the horses. And the reason for that was fascinating…
When you ride a horse, you sit on top of the horse, with reins in your hands usually. There is an element of control the rider has over the horse for their own safety, so it’s the rider that decides for the most part. This means power and control are with the rider. If the rider didn’t have reins, and gave all the power to the horse, that’s an imbalance too.
By being with the horses, beside the horses, the power is equal. It’s pure, collaborative leadership as equals, not about command and control. The horses are free to engage; it comes down to how we show up or not, and whether and not they engage.
From that day, these are some more learnings from Callie, Tiffin, Admiral, Mr Blue and Jack.
Relatability fosters Connection
This lesson comes from Admiral, a proud, majestic stallion, who sadly is no longer with us, mere weeks later ☹ We were introduced to Admiral with an explanation of his background which included some structural health issues.
I could relate being someone with joint and bone issues. I was amazed that I felt connection to a horse based on some shared circumstances. As others in the group talked about which horses they were drawn to many of them identified the link was shared commonalities.
It’s why people in positions of power are told to share something about themselves that other “normal” people can relate to, to create relatability.
Behavioural and energetic alignment are key to authenticity. We were told to approach a horse and interact. When I approached with trepidation, worried I’d infringe too much on Mr Blue’s space too quickly, he cast a quick gaze at me then continued chomping on the grass, disinterested in me entirely. I physically approached, and my energy was worried, hesitant, reluctant.
We regrouped and were invited to approach a horse and openly shed a fear, something that was blocking us in the moment. I spoke my trepidation on infringing, of doing it wrong and said to let it go. As I spoke my fear, held the intention of connecting to Admiral and opened my heart to be with him, he paused and raised his head, I stroked his long neck and he stood with me. My energy matched my intention and my behaviours.
Leading can be lonely
In the afternoon we did a team exercise. The task was to traverse the field as a group with three of the horses as part of our group (the horses were loosely on leads for this exercise). The humans positioned themselves at front, middle and back with the first horse right behind the lone ‘leader’ flanked by a few humans. The other horses and humans were to follow.
I was the leader for one exercise and as I slowly walked forward, yelling back to the group where we were going I quickly felt isolated and alone. I didn’t know what was going on behind me. I couldn’t hear if the horses were coming along with us or not. I tried to look yet my view of the group was blocked by that first flank of beings.
I asked what was going on. I heard the 2nd flank yell back behind them asking what was going on. They couldn’t hear from the people behind them. It was never clear until I saw a photo Jude took afterwards, showing that we were proceeding as a group in the direction I was walking, I just didn’t know it, and everyone was struggling to know what was going on in the chain – it’s lonely at the top, and maybe not just at the top…
Be Empathetic. Every Position is Hard
We did two team exercises, one in which I lead and one in which I was in the middle of the line-up. I found both positions hard, as did others when we debriefed. Everyone struggled to know what was going on in any of the other parts of the line-up.
Everyone can find their positions challenging, communication between the positions can be challenging. And communication within an organization is essential for people to feel connected, to belong, to understand the vision, the progress and to be able to contribute in the best possible way.
In short, regular communication across the organization is required for success.
What learnings do you have from interacting with animals?
What leadership quality is your strength?
Who is your role model for leadership?
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