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What can horses teach us about leadership in 2021?


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Well, a lot actually.

More so than ever we are in desperate need of authentic and consistent leadership to help navigate through these new normals.

Having worked with 100’s and taught over 150 leadership, EQ workshops and natural horsemanship clinics to children and adults over the years I wanted to share my top three things that horses helped me develop as a leader.

1 – Leading with Consistency

The horse’s social dynamics are not dissimilar to humans. Horses live in herds, and each time you show up you need to establish your leadership role and your part in the herd. Each herd will typically have one leader at the top of the hierarchy.

However, each horse will have its own leadership role within the herd.

Some people try to approach a leadership role by force. But let me tell you this if you have an 800kg horse and you go forth with the intention of controlling or forcing that horse to do something he or she does not want to do.

You’re going to get your ass bit, kicked, charged or just plain ignored.

Horses just like humans respond well to an authentic leadership mindset which is developed through daily repetition and experience. Over time less effort is required to maintain your herd leader position (Humans or Horses), however, this takes daily consistent interaction. And this interaction must be honest, genuine and have no ego or agenda.

As a leader yourself, if you develop a daily leadership mentality and continue to show up taking an authentic emotionally intelligent approach to everything you do, you will experience amazing breakthroughs both with humans and horses.

2 – Leaders understand the power of emotions

Horses are prey animals and have an extraordinarily strong self-preservation instinct and general protection of their fellow herd members. Just like family members!

Horses like humans are sensitive creatures and respond positively when you are grounded, understand your own emotions and are aware of your surroundings.

If you enter a paddock of horses with a clouded mind, full of haste, rushing and your own emotions are all over the place typically horses will keep their distance. Humans are no different. However, the way humans typically handle situations is quite different from that of horses.

We humans are particularly good at creating more friction, tension and confrontation than is needed in a situation. We also harbour emotions, stew on them, and create scenarios that otherwise just would not have occurred.

To be a good leader you need to keep your own emotions in check and be fully aware of your own environment and your teams’ needs. Approach each situation as a herd leader making sure you and your team are safe.

You must leave your emotions at the door, think logically and act based upon fact rather than the fictions of your emotions or the emotions of your team members.

We have a process when entering into the paddock or wanting to focus on anything like meetings etc and its called “Clear your calculator” Like when you are doing any new sums you need to make sure you have reset the calculator back to zero.

Take this approach when leading, make sure your mind is clear and focused on what is in front of you. Leave everything else behind. Start at 0.

3 – Lead with passion and purpose

If you have ever watched horses for any length of time you will see every move is with purpose. Whether it walking to the water trough, or galloping to the feed shed, or simply (asking, telling or demanding) another horse to move to establish the hierarchy of the leadership roles and feed positions, It is done with a very clear purpose.

Often as leaders, we get caught up in the day-to-day hustle of running businesses and teams and instead of leading, we are being led by the tasks in front of us.

A highly functioning herd thrives on shared leadership and intentionally uses the various strengths of each member to benefit the whole herd.

Some members of the herd might be active leaders and help resolve social challenges, like when a new horse enters the herd. Another will take on the role of instigating time for play.

This is no different in humans. Each team member will have a different role and a different contribution to the team.

For example, Zeus one of our horses loves water. At the water trough, he will fling water at both horses and humans to encourage play.

You MUST recognise and nurture these attributes in your team members for them to thrive.

As a high performing leader in 2021, you need to be able to recognise the different strengths of your team and establish an environment for everyone to grow, learn and develop.

Horses are happy and thrive in a well-balanced and safe environment, humans are no different.

Authentic and Emotionally Intelligent leadership far outperforms the 20th-century method of ‘you will do what I say as I am your boss or else’. The 21st century does not have space for bosses. It needs leaders.

The boss style of leadership in horses just engages the fight or flight mode which is not dissimilar in humans. We end up not performing out our best and eventually leave.

Being told what to do and when to do it in a way that you are performing through fear and conflict will never result in a happy and thriving team that is following you because they WANT to and because they are invested in you.

You want your team members to feel the same drive, passion, and enthusiasm for your business as you do. They may not ever get to the same level of passion as you, after all it is your business. But you want them to invest in you, trust in you and want to be part of your team. Not feel that they have to be.

Over many years of working with horses, I have learnt many lessons in leadership. Most of them learn fast and fail hardstyle.

This is why I wanted to share these top three lessons with you today.

So, if you want to be a better leader this year adapt a leadership style like a horse.

Feel free to reach out to me about this post or anything related to horses and leadership.