What Leaders are Learning from Horses

Being a leader in today's world is more than holding a certain position or title and expecting people to follow. Leaders who get things done are those who inspire us.

They are able to adapt to different needs, wants and priorities whilst holding the vision and mission, from a place of certainty. They are accountable, humble and continuously strive for excellence.

Most importantly, they are able to connect with and understand others personally, in teams and across organisational functions.

Developing these skills requires becoming open to the continuous stream of feedback which comes our way. Rather than shying away from feedback, we can actively seek it out, encourage people to speak and also be aware of the equally powerful nonverbal feedback signals which help indicate if we are on track or not.

Often, it can be difficult to receive feedback. The fear of criticism or judgement from others is powerful and instinctive. It can raise our defenses and limit our ability to view feedback as objective rather than a personal attack and potentially a threat to our own survival, our own position within an organisation.

The challenge is to move past these fears, to see feedback as an opportunity to connect, share and grow.

So..how can we do this?

Well, by working with horses of course! Let me explain a little more..

In many ways, horse are very similar to humans. We are both social animals, desiring connection and belonging whilst fearing force, control and intimidation.

Like us, horses also seek strong leadership and will choose their leader based on their primal instinct for survival and comfort. It is this instinct which uniquely places horses to provide instant and honest feedback on their human interactions and leadership style. They have neither egos nor care for titles or hierarchies, they do not judge and they never lie.

In a fun, safe and collaborative environment, our workshops allow for the horse becomes the teacher. We can then go beyond our comfort zones, experience the power of communicating via actions and sensory information and learn how to create willing followers from a place of personal power rather than positional power.

What do Leaders Learn from Horses?

Working with horses is ‘in the field’ learning at its best. In this unfamiliar environment, we quickly reach a level of vulnerability needed for deep personal development. In their gentle yet powerful way, horses do not judge us, they simply respond by giving immediate, instinctive and honest feedback.

This allows a safe learning space with the opportunity to explore and experiment on a range of leadership principles including the impact of body language and non verbal cues, influencing, being present and creating willing and engaged followers.

Feedback from workshop participants includes an increased level of self-awareness, ‘in the moment’ insights on developing trust and listening to others before acting.

Insights which they then implement into the workplace, reporting improvements in team cohesion, innovation and an increased ability to engage and influence.

Case study examples

Example one: Project manager, consultancy organisation

  • Client challenge: ability to inspire team to achieve results, tendency to ‘people please’ when challenged or questioned.

  • Learning process: engaging in an exercise to lead a horse in different directions using body language and energy alone.

  • Insight & Learning: client learned the difference of leading through connection and rapport rather than using ‘false’ incentives. She developed the ability to create a stronger leadership presence through purposeful, non-aggressive body language and to recognise and respond to emotions, which arose during challenging times.

Example two: Head of Department, professional services organisation 

  • Client challenge: ability to connect have people follow through on requests/work direction. Tendency to direct and control work and team through position and title, particularly when under stress/pressure.

  • Learning process: engaging in a series of exercises to move the horse over different obstacles. Working with small team to come up with solutions collaboratively and think outside the box.

  • Insight & Learning: by removing the ability to ‘control’ the situation, the client was able to explore alternative influencing styles to come up with creative solutions with others to achieve the goal. Development of lateral rather than linear thinking. 

Example three: Banking & finance team experiencing high change and low engagement scores

  • Client challenge: ability to provide clear leadership in uncertain environmental conditions resulting in disengagement and dysfunction within the team.

  • Learning process: undertaking different activities outside of individual and team comfort zones where team achievement, emotional resilience in change and the importance of knowledge sharing where emphasized.

  • Insight & Learning: Development of stronger team bonds as individuals shared learnings and supported each other, which allowed greater collaboration and new perspectives on solving old problems to arise.

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