By Rosalie Millard-Evans BSc. MSc. Ch.Psychol

Horses probably aren’t the first thing you think of for leadership development but the approach is proving to be game changing for leaders and the business they work in.

When participants tell you that their experience with horses has been ‘Profound’, ‘life-changing’ and ‘transformational’ it’s time to dig a little deeper into this new but growing industry offering equine facilitated learning for businesses.

“Epic and transformational experience to build trust, shared values and sense of fun with the leaders of the business” That is what Russam GMS Managing Director Jason Atkinson thought of their recent Leadership Team Retreat with LeadChange. Watch their experience here.

The problem many organisations face is that by the time leaders reach a senior level they have acquired plenty of knowledge, formed habits (good and bad), and built up a wealth of experience – so traditional content-based leader programmes don’t cut it. Real breakthroughs happen when you move away from ‘teaching’ leaders and start working with identity, beliefs and emotions. With a skilled coach to guide learning, working with horses creates a safe environment to surface and explore these aspects of leadership.

This unique style of innovative, and often transformational learning addresses some of the core leadership challenges faced in today’s business landscape – trust, authenticity, purpose, honesty, presence and shared purpose.

So, what exactly can you expect to learn from the horses?

Horses have the keen ability to detect intention and authenticity in people and are known to “mirror” behaviours they are picking up from others. Participants can explore their authenticity. When they connect with their true selves and communicate from that place, horses are amazingly responsive. When the (human’s) thinking, judging brain comes into play, horses respond by disengaging from the interaction.

Leadership without status – Horses make no distinction between the most junior employee and the CEO, thus creating a level playing field that allows participants to truly explore their leadership capability.

“Horses give you really clear, unadulterated feedback. They couldn’t care less if I’m a CEO. It didn’t matter to them. I’m not a CEO in their environment.”

Trust is quickly becoming a differentiator for outstanding leaders and organisations and sits at the core of creating relationships and retaining customers. Horses allow participants to explore how to create instant trust without words, through your intention and energy, and how it can quickly be broken.

Working as a team with the horses brings the team’s patterns and habits to the surface, and horses provide powerful metaphors for the importance of shared purpose and alignment in communication.

 We had to work as a team, the feedback was instant, we could see the things that were holding us back from performing our best. Rosalie provided the structure and facilitation to have some really honest conversations and make changes.  This is an incredibly memorable start of a journey for us, we came out with tangible actions that are already making a difference to how we work together”. You can get a flavour of their experience here.

Teams also report how it strengthens relationships by deepening their understanding of one another, allowing them to show vulnerability and thereby increase trust. Another outcome is truly honest conversations.

Carefully facilitated, the team can have transformational conversations about what they need to change to work even more effectively as a team – adjusting roles and communication accordingly.

The true magic comes when new ways of working are trialled with the horses – enabling the team to experience how it feels when they are ‘performing in the zone’ and creating that positive shared experience to draw on.

The thing people always want to know is exactly how does it work? Horses, as prey and fight or flight animals, are adept at picking up and responding to intention and nonverbal communication.

Up to 93% of meaning is communicated nonverbally. With their prey instincts and hypersensitive awareness, horses size people up instantly and accurately. They are also emotionally sensitive and by noticing their response in each moment you can begin to identify patterns – making a connection between your body, feelings and mind.

LeadChange runs bespoke equine based leadership and team development across the UK and internationally. To learn more visit www.leadchange.com or contact Rosalie@leadchange.com

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