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Horses look for presence in the moment and clarity about where you are going and how. They create an especially valuable mirror to humans-masterful as we are about thinking one way and feeling or behaving another. You can't lead a horse if you're not fully present or unclear about where you are going. You may be able to fool yourself, but you can't fool a horse.
Horse-guided coaching is experiential learning in which people see their energy and behavior reflected by horses, gain clarity about their leadership presence, style and effectiveness with others. Through horse-human exercises on the ground, participants discover new information about themselves and practice new and subtle shifts in the way they lead. No riding is involved.
So what can we learn from horses about using our leadership presence?
1. The lead horse is not the most dominant, but the horse that can assure the well-being of the herd. Horses demonstrate servant leadership. Lead stallions and mares assert their leadership clearly and watch for signs that the others understand they are the leader. Once respect for the lead horse as primary resource for safety and guidance is established, other resources, such as access to food and water, are not controlled by the leader but are turned back to the herd to use as needed. Leaders benefit from understanding the difference between dominance and servant leadership as they steer their companies and manage their employees.
5. Horses run a tight herd. If a colt misbehaves, he is in real trouble because the lead mare will send him outside of the herd where he's in danger. He knows it and knows he's got to show willingness to work with the group. Only then will he be let back in. Leaders learn how to set boundaries and give clear direction with a horse-and with the staff back at the office.
Meredith Manor International Equestrian Center
Jane had just returned from a much needed vacation; a spiritual retreat she called it. She had been working for 9 years in her current position of Director of OD. She was stuck-something needed to give.
Jane was very much looking forward to the 2 day leadership retreat with the horses. She was very supportive of trying new methodologies for self and team discovery. Although she new little of the connection between leadership and horses, she knew from the accuracy of the Personal Leadership Assessment everyone had taken in advance of the workshop that this experience was going to be revealing no matter what happened.
One would never know what was really going on with Jane; no one human that is. She seemed happy and vibrant and full of support for her team. However, Dolly, a 17 year old alfa mare, had Jane's number from the beginning.
This particular exercise required simply leading the horse. Now this is something you would think a leader could do quite easily. They have been directing and guiding people for years. And most leaders assume that those people are doing what they say and following them. Some go so far as to 'inspect what they expect'. After 16 years consulting and coaching leaders, I can easily say most don't.
Throughout the remainder of the workshop, Jane was able to 'be' more completely. Her vulnerability led to a level of trust with her team that enabled them to have similar experiences. Now they have the opportunity and muscle memory to lead their teams through this same vulnerability. Through her session with Dolly, Jane experienced 'real' leadership and shared this with her team.
At the end of the two days, the team summed up what they had learned. One thing was very clear to them...their definition and concept of leadership had changed dramatically. This is the power, and the gift, of equine facilitated coaching.