What horses can teach us about leadership | FT


What can horses teach
us about leadership? I’ve come here to find out. It’s an Equine Guided Leadership
Development Programme, but what does that
actually mean? Course leader David
Harris says it’s about presence, trust, and
respect, both here in the barn and in the workplace. If bosses engage
with the horses they can learn the right skills
to lead and avoid burnout. I start the day thinking:
this sounds great. But unsure of how horses
can show me the way. First, I need to step
into their world. So how do I get to know a horse? Well, I have to do what
they do and approach them from the side. After all, they’re
prey animals, so I need to show I mean no harm. If I make sure she
can see me here, I give her an
opportunity to smell me, which she may or may not. There you go. She can smell me from back here. Then I give her a
rub, but I move away – actually she
moved away from me. All of those behaviours
are non-predatory. You know, so often a lot of
discourse comes from the fact that, well, this is our culture,
and if it’s different to yours, you need to adapt. You know, it’s kind of
creating confrontation when there’s no need to be. When we can step into the world
of others and understand it, then it’s far easier for us to
engage with them in that way. So if he’s in my space
and I don’t want him to, I can gently put my hand
on the side of his face and say, no, thank you. Setting personal boundaries
at work can be a challenge. Well, horses show the benefits
of making them clear early on. That prevents
unnecessary tension that can lead to conflict. A huge part of leadership is
getting the boundaries right, and setting them early,
and being clear about them. And we implement
it in a way which isn’t destructive
because so often what people do is leave it, and
leave it, and then get really cross about it as opposed
to just take action when they need to. That’s it. Just say no. You really feel like
you’re part of the Earth. The aim now is to
become grounded, to pay attention to
my breathing, balance, and environment. You literally think
better from this place. It’s also a high
state of presence, and you’re being
mindful because you’re choosing how you see the
world, how you breathe, and how you stand. So all I’m going to ask you
to do is exactly what you did. Once I feel centred, I
share it with the horse. Good. Lovely. Really pay attention
to your breath. It’s very calming. Isn’t it? Yeah. This is so often what’s
lacking because we’re operating from this high intensity. Bam. Bam. Bam. Bam. Bam. And we assume that that’s
the way you get stuff done. Actually, you can get stuff
done from here as well. Because you’re calm, but
you’re not whacked out. You’re calm and present. I’m starting to realise why
companies send their employees on these courses. In a high stress
world, I can see how a calmer way of being
productive would be useful. OK. So we’re going to do a
model of leadership now. This is David’s classroom. He explains a
three-part leadership model derived from horsemanship
but useful for people. The first position that
we’re going to talk about is this position one, which
is the energy of join me. Come with me. Follow me to where I am going. This is the position where
we give direction, pace, and destination. And this is about how we inspire
the people we’re working with. The challenge with this
position of leadership is often we’re so
focused on this, we can forget about
the collective herd. The way we support that is
we have this position three of leadership, which is about
a driving, pushing energy. And it’s the place
that we motivate people to keep up with this. This second position is about
the heart of leadership. This is where we
operate from most often, and this is the place where
we have genuine conversations with our people. We understand what
motivates them. So there you are. This task is to walk the
horse around the school. It should be simple, especially
because, as I confess, I ride horses frequently. I hold the line close
just like I’ve been taught in my riding school. Let go with your right hand. Just notice what happens. Just let go. Keep walking. Keep walking. But the horse responds much
better when I see the rope. And then look at me and
walk straight towards me. Completely ignore the horse. And then just stop your feet. What are you noticing right now? The horse is responding
to me without me… it’s my body rather than… yeah. Do you remember what
I said about control and the illusion of control? What your controlling,
Janina, is you. When you control you,
he wants to be with you. The aim is to control
myself not the horse. David says the same
goes for people. Give clear direction while
allowing people autonomy to deliver the results you want,
and they’ll want to follow. The irony is, often,
this place of control comes from a place of care. I want to help
them do their job. Implicit in that is, but
I don’t trust them to. That’s it. You’re leading from the front,
giving really clear direction. That’s it. Keep going. What you’ve got to
do is notice they’ve got an intention and
lead from the front, and they will follow you. And it’s the same with people. People are thinking, where
am I supposed to be going? When you notice that and you can
go this is where we’re going. Then, they’re like, okay. The great thing is that
kind of leadership, the group relaxes because
it’s like, she’s got it. I can follow her. I trust her. I test my new insights
with a different horse. I start to get it more. Notice your right hand, Janina. But soon run into problems. Yeah. Yeah. Nice. Come on. He’s not listening to me. How do I get him listening? But, obviously,
this doesn’t work. David teaches me to put
some energy behind the horse without making contact. You could do this,
even on your coat. OK. Yeah? See? See how he moves when you’re… Yeah. This is about you stepping
into a place of power to assert yourself. OK. Notice the change in the horse. Yeah. You don’t need to do it. Go. He’ll come with you. And if he doesn’t, now
you… oh, what a surprise! That’s it. Good. We have to be willing to step
into that place of assertion. Otherwise, all the title,
all the power in the world means nothing. Come on. Now it’s time to put everything
I’ve learned into action. I need to be
grounded and present to lead the horses at liberty. That’s it. I get off to a slightly
unsteady start. There you go. And then something clicks. And when you feel
you’ve got her respect, you drop the energy down… Come on. …and you walk with her. That’s it. There you go. Come on. There you go. Trust yourself, and trust her. What are you noticing
about how you feel? Weirdly, it just feels nice. Nice. What’s nice about it? It just feels calm. Calm. Yeah. So you have a connection… Relaxing. Yeah. …and you’re feeling calm. And the basis of
that relationship was, I am going to be really
clear about respect and trust. I think I’ve cracked it,
except for one thing. I tend to look back not quite
trusting the horse to keep up. In a work context,
this could mean I’m not always sure that
someone’s got my back. And just asked me to give
you feedback on where she is while she’s walking. Yeah? OK. Good girl. That’s it. She’s gone to the
other side now. She’s right behind you though. Yeah. She’s having a little sniff now. So how is it having
that feedback? Yeah, better. So, yeah, better. So here’s a great thing. I’m going to find
someone to have my back. Yeah. Right? In business terms, that’s
what we’re talking about. Yeah. Horses are herd animals
that have been around for about 60m years. So they know a thing or
two about how to live well. It’s easy to be sceptical before
taking a course like this, but it’s been a
really impactful day. And I’ll definitely
be taking what I’ve learned back to the office. Although, I won’t be
hugging my colleagues.


5 Responses

  1. Carlos Rafael

    January 28, 2020 12:38 pm

    That's why you see why many royalty love horse and rich people send they kids to horse lesson at early stage..

  2. daylightriot

    February 9, 2020 10:44 pm

    what a load of tripe. These 'lessons' can be learnt anywhere, any management course will cover these fundaments in some way. The only lesson I learnt was how easy it is to manipulate people into paying more for a basic leadership course by introducing horses into the mix.


Leave a Reply