Learning about Leadership changed my approach to horses, but I never expected the horses could help people learn about Leadership

 

We were working with a small Leadership team and I invited them to come to our farm for one of their sessions. Instead of building marshmallow towers, or playing a game I thought it might be interesting to talk about this new approach to horsemanship and see if there were parallels to leadership.

 

We talked about perspectives – how Humans look at the world from the perspective of a preditor – moving forward towards a goal – while horses, like all prey animals, primarily are on the lookout for danger.   We talked about how horses communicate with body language (ears forward is happy, ears back is not)

 

– if I said “jump” my horse should say “how high”.  It wasn’t working and my relationship with my horse was breaking down.  I decided to try a different path.

 

I completely changed my approach to horses – and started to DO what I had been teaching others – to be the leader he needed.  It wasn’t easy and required letting go of pretty much everything I had ever been taught but pretty soon things began to change.   Other competitors would say how much they liked my new horse – he was calmer, smarter, more athletic than the basket case I road the year before.  I didn’t change him at all – all the change was in my approach – and it showed in his performance.

 

Learning about Leadership changed my approach to horses, but I never expected the horses could help people learn about Leadership

 

We were working with a small Leadership team and I invited them to come to our farm for one of their sessions. Instead of building marshmallow towers, or playing a game I thought it might be interesting to talk about this new approach to horsemanship and see if there were parallels to leadership.

 

We talked about perspectives – how Humans look at the world from the perspective of a preditor – moving forward towards a goal – while horses, like all prey animals, primarily are on the lookout for danger.   We talked about how horses communicate with body language (ears forward is happy, ears back is not)

 

I invited one volunteer to interact with a horse with the objective of showing the horse they were someone the could trust and respect.  Everyone else watched and gave me their observations.

 

This is typically what happens – what do you see?

Learning about Leadership changed my approach to horses, but I never expected the horses could help people learn about Leadership

We were working with a small Leadership team and I invited them to come to our farm for one of their sessions. Instead of building marshmallow towers, or playing a game I thought it might be interesting to talk about this new approach to horsemanship and see if there were parallels to leadership.

We talked about perspectives – how Humans look at the world from the perspective of a preditor – moving forward towards a goal – while horses, like all prey animals, primarily are on the lookout for danger.   We talked about how horses communicate with body language (ears forward is happy, ears back is not)

– if I said “jump” my horse should say “how high”.  It wasn’t working and my relationship with my horse was breaking down.  I decided to try a different path.

I completely changed my approach to horses – and started to DO what I had been teaching others – to be the leader he needed.  It wasn’t easy and required letting go of pretty much everything I had ever been taught but pretty soon things began to change.   Other competitors would say how much they liked my new horse – he was calmer, smarter, more athletic than the basket case I road the year before.  I didn’t change him at all – all the change was in my approach – and it showed in his performance.

Learning about Leadership changed my approach to horses, but I never expected the horses could help people learn about Leadership

We were working with a small Leadership team and I invited them to come to our farm for one of their sessions. Instead of building marshmallow towers, or playing a game I thought it might be interesting to talk about this new approach to horsemanship and see if there were parallels to leadership.

We talked about perspectives – how Humans look at the world from the perspective of a preditor – moving forward towards a goal – while horses, like all prey animals, primarily are on the lookout for danger.   We talked about how horses communicate with body language (ears forward is happy, ears back is not)

I invited one volunteer to interact with a horse with the objective of showing the horse they were someone the could trust and respect.  Everyone else watched and gave me their observations.

This is typically what happens – what do you see?

I was so proud of my new show jumper.  Tall, powerful able to jump a 5 foot course he was amazing until we got into the ring – we started off great but at some point it was like he lost his mind and would veer off with no warning and launch me in the air.

It made no sense.  I tried coach after coach – “show him whose boss” was the typical answer – or try this equipment – hold his head up – or down.  Try these spurs – use this whip.  Practice practice practice – and now the problems were showing up at home too.

Eventually I was ready to give it up.  Couldn’t sell him because he was getting dangerous. Long story but I’d heard about “horse whisperers” and seen a few – and wondered if maybe they had some techniques that might work.  And a new door opened.

I discovered my horse thought I was telling him we were in danger.  As a prey animal he thought my urgency was saying we were in danger.  Naturally his response was to take us away from the problem. 

It never occurred to me to use all the knowledge I had about leadership with my horse – if I said “jump” my horse should say “how high”.  It wasn’t working and my relationship with my horse was breaking down.  I decided to try a different path.

I completely changed my approach to horses – and started to DO what I had been teaching others – to be the leader he needed.  It wasn’t easy and required letting go of pretty much everything I had ever been taught but pretty soon things began to change.   Other competitors would say how much they liked my new horse – he was calmer, smarter, more athletic than the basket case I road the year before.  I didn’t change him at all – all the change was in my approach – and it showed in his performance.  

Learning about Leadership changed my approach to horses, but I never expected the horses could help people learn about Leadership

We were working with a small Leadership team and I invited them to come to our farm for one of their sessions. Instead of building marshmallow towers, or playing a game I thought it might be interesting to talk about this new approach to horsemanship and see if there were parallels to leadership.

We talked about perspectives – how Humans look at the world from the perspective of a preditor – moving forward towards a goal – while horses, like all prey animals, primarily are on the lookout for danger.   We talked about how horses communicate with body language (ears forward is happy, ears back is not)

I invited one volunteer to interact with a horse with the objective of showing the horse they were someone the could trust and respect.  Everyone else watched and gave me their observations. 

This is typically what happens – what do you see?

Most people respond:

  • The horse is happy/friendly, is enjoying being petted

Then when the horse moves away (which is what happens next)

  • The horse is not friendly, doesn’t like the person, is bored

I’ve taught lots of leaders about appreciating differences – we talk about introverts and extroverts or colours or styles and its good learning but most people think they far more inclusive than they really are – which is why most leaders score much lower on “understands me” in a 360 than they expect.

What happens in this exercise illustrates the challenge leaders face and gives them a solution.

Take a look at the pictures again through the lens of three things we know about horses:

  • They are prey animals that move away from danger
  • The position of their ears can be used as feedback
  • Their eyes are on the side of their heads

In both cases the horse’s ears are back – they are not happy – but if people notice that they put the “blame” on the horse – bored, unfriendly instead of the person – because the person is *intending* to be nice.

Intentions aside what the person is *doing* is standing directly in front of the horse and blocking their escape route – the horse feels trapped – so his ears go back – not only trapped but blinded because the human is directly in front – the horses eyes are to the side.

What is really happening is that the horses feedback is being interpreted through the lens of the leaders intention rather than through the actual impact they are having.

How often does that happen at work?

How often do assumptions get in the way?

We  talk about the ladder of inference (Argyris)– how are actions are based on how we interpret the actions of others through our own biases, mindset, history, and beliefs.

Which leads to a very valuable facilitated discussion on feedback, styles, mindsets, about how with the best of intentions conflict or stress can arise from simple misunderstandings.   We talk about how body language – what people do rather than what they say – tells you so much.  

We talk about how important it is to really understand a situation from the other person’s perspective – in Crucial conversations they ask ‘why would a reasonable person act this way”.

We don’t just leave it there – we encourage the participants to go and meet the other horses – but with an open mind – using the knowledge they have see what they can learn about each of the horses – notice what changes happen as they approach from the side or the front.  We have equine assistants there to translate body language and offer ideas and feedback.

This is the magic of the program – a memorable experience that directly relates to leadership and a facilitated dialogue that goes deeper.  If people choose not to interact with the horses that’s fine – simply watching others is enough.

We take this one step further than most experiences have – we let leaders try out different behaviours – move to the side so the horse sees better, use deep breaths to lead by example, observe and the response of the horse changes too.   The impact of a Leader on their team cannot be overestimated. 

In this first exercise leaders get a deep understanding of the importance of Listening as the foundation of leadership.   One of our repeat clients described what happened in the days following their program:

 “Our leaders are asking different questions.  Instead of spending their time focused on the message they are giving they are learning more about their staff and their duties first.  One leader now meets with a different person each morning, another has a stand-up meeting at the start of the day just to find out what his staff have on their plate.  It makes a real impact.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

That road paved with Good Intentions goes where…?

We interpret feedback through our intentions –if someone intends to be friendly and the horse is restless or putting his ears back then they try harder to *send* the message – smiling, telling him he is “good”, petting etc. It never occurs that the reason the horse is not responding positively is because of something they are doing – in fact almost everyone assumes that the horse *is* responding positively.  If they do figure out the horse is unhappy because he moves away or nips at them then the horse is labelled a “problem” and is sent for training.

The same thing happens to people every day.  When a team member thinks a bit differently than the rest of their team, or someone is worried that a new change implementation may negatively impact customers, or customers don’t feel they are being heard it means that perspectives are being missed.

Are there places where your leaders are missing feedback?  Where they would benefit from the opportunity to see things through someone else’s eyes?  Whose perspective would they benefit from the most?  Their clients?  Their peers? Their direct reports?

Every leadership skill that relates to people starts with understanding perspective; building trust, earning respect, communication, proactively diffusing conflict, coalition building, engagement, motivation.

When the problem is in the Mirror

Steve was a Director who brought his team to work with us because he wanted them to improve their communication.   He felt that he needed to improve the clarity of his direction.   When I pointed out the horse’s feedback he was very surprised to learn that when he stroked the horse the horse wasn’t happy.  Steve explained that he likely did it because his dog liked being stroked – I pointed out that he was stroking the horse again.  He stopped.  Then he told me how interesting he found the exercise, and I pointed out to him that horse’s ears were back and he noticed (again) that he was stroking the horse between the eyes. After this happened 6 times (yes I counted) Steve stopped and looked at me and said –

“My team doesn’t have a listening problem, I do.” 

This was the “Aha” moment when Steve could clearly see the behaviour pattern that was holding him back.  He thought his communication problem was that he wasn’t being clear enough.  He thought his team needed fixed so they could hear him better.  He learned that if he listened to feedback he could understand how his vision was being perceived. 

I followed up with his coach a few months later and she reported huge improvements.  His team was finally starting to take initiative and by learning to listen to them he had cut down the time it required for staff meetings in half.  She also told me that the same information – problems with communication – had been on his 360 but until he got the same message from a horse there had not been any behaviour change.

To Start Building Positive Working Relationships:

1.           Pay close attention to the other person, learn about their hopes and dreams, their values and priorities, their goals and aspirations.  Understand their point of view before you start trying to influence them.

2.           If the feedback you are getting does not match your intentions, start listening harder instead of communicating more.  Listening will give you clues about why your message was not received in the way you had hoped.

 

The different between Trust and a Pez Dispenser

Once everyone is comfortable it’s time for participants to start leading – not the way horses are typically led but in a way that reflects the leadership characteristics the group identified.  (Trust, respect, empathy, conficence etc).

Tracey was a young leader on a fast track that her executive coach was worried about – Tracey’s heart was in the right place but she was losing the respect of her team.

Tracey took Cody for a walk and started off well but within a minute found herself backed up against a wall, she had been petting Cody and forgot to look where she was going.  The lightbulb went off – “This is exactly what happens with my team – I’m so focused on making sure they are OK I’m not providing them with direction”.   Tracey went back and sat down with her team and set up a whole new set of guidelines.  The team was on track within weeks and six months later Tracey got a significant promotion. 

So many people think that giving carrots to horses is the first step to a good relationship – but instead of seeing you as a leader they want to follow – they see you as a Pez dispenser that is only useful when it is giving out treats.  Tracey made the shift from being “liked” to earning trust and respect in a friendly way and the difference to her organization was significant.

The bottom line

Becoming a more effective leader requires changing behavior. Changing behaviour requires adjusting underlying mind-sets.  Identifying some of the deepest, “below the surface” thoughts, feelings, assumptions, and beliefs is usually a precondition of behavioral change.

Typical methods for addressing mindsets can be uncomfortable and rarely work.

The success we have in a horse sense program at identifying, challenging and reframing underlying mindsets in a way that is enjoyable is unique.

Leaders love finding new paths to success and never forget the lessons they received in the company of our very special group of horses and expert leadership development professionals.

The bottom line:  Who do you need to follow you willingly?  How will you know if they are?  Can you let go of the rope long enough to find out?

 

 

One Day when a Senior Leaders Business card doesn’t impress

Horses really don’t care what it says on your business card.  Senior leaders rarely get immediate non judgemental feedback and that in itself is very valuable but what matters most isn’t the experience – no matter how awesome it is – but what happens when the horses are not around any more.  

Leaders leave the experience more coachable, more aware of their specific challenges, with stronger connections to their peers and a completely new strategy for effective feedback.

They discover how the same mindsets that helped them achieve success are at the root of challenges engaging and influencing their teams.  Achieving goals is critical to success but that focused directive behaviour applied towards a team disengages and disempowers. 

They discover how what they do means far more than what they say.  They learn why its so important to step back and let go of the reins if they want others to succeed.

 

Would it make sense to talk further?

Its taken me 10 pages to describe what happens in the first few hours of the program and to be honest there is a lot more to talk about. 

If you are curious if your leaders could benefit from the breakthroughs that happen in a Horse Sense program lets schedule a 30 to 60 min online meeting – either on the phone or preferably using Zoom so I can share some video with you.

  • I will tell you about how taking the halter off the horse is an unforgettable lesson in the difference between management and leadership.
  • We can explore the reason that most Leaders think like Predators and what that is doing to their teams.
  • I will share with you why almost every leader forgets everything we teach them in the morning in the first two minutes of the afternoon and how that can significantly impact both team effectiveness and customer retention.
  • We can explore if any pre or post session work would be helpful and what follow up you can plan.

 

 

Next Steps

I would love to speak with you so we can discover if a bit of Horse Sense would benefit your clients.  I can only schedule 2 or 3 calls a week so please let me know as soon as possible and we will find a time that works.

Email: Sharon – sharonq@leadersense.ca