Are you the Leader you think you are? Ask a horse!

What is leadership?  The Collins Concise dictionary defines the verb ‘lead’ as:

“to show the way (to an individual or a group) by going with or ahead” – and “to cause to act, feel, think, or behave in a certain way; induce, influence.”

In the last century, corporate leadership was largely about ‘command and control’, but the development of a knowledge economy, in which most physical processes can be automated, calls for a different style of leadership – transformational rather than transactional; inspirational rather than instructional.

In his bestseller ‘Emotional Intelligence’ (1995), Daniel Goleman offered proof of the importance of emotional and social factors in business success (explaining why it is that people with IQs of 160 end up working for people with IQs of 100 – people who happen to be more emotionally intelligent).  In the book ‘Primal Leadership’ (2002) by Goleman, Boyatzis and McKee, the authors argue that the primal job of leadership is emotional.  Great leaders ignite passion and inspire the best in their followers by working through the emotions.

Clearly, leaders need appropriate technical, professional and intellectual ability.  In addition, good leaders also display emotionally intelligent behaviours, which have been summarised as:

Self-awareness – knowing your own emotions; recognising feelings as they happen

Self-management – managing your emotions; handling feelings in an appropriate way

Social-awareness – recognising emotions in others; empathy, organisational awareness

Relationship management – managing emotions in others; influence

Emotional intelligence is an area where the ‘knowing-doing’ gap can be painfully evident.  We know the theory and are aware of how we should behave – but can be hi-jacked in the moment by inappropriate emotional responses, which we may later come to regret.

How can emotionally intelligent leadership be learned?  What experiences are available to those who want to develop their ‘EQ’ in order to lead more effectively?  How can we hold up a mirror to the emotional energy which is constantly being expressed through our behaviour and body language?

This is an area in which ‘equine-facilitated’ or ‘equine-assisted’ programmes excel.  Horses are extremely aware of, and responsive to emotional energy.  Horses don’t lie; they don’t separate how they feel from how they act.  The expression ‘what you see is what you get’ describes them perfectly.  Whatever they feel – scared, confused, submissive, bold, relaxed, confident – they communicate through their actions, and as mirrors of emotional energy, they react to what they see and sense in us.

When people and horses interact, the horses’ sense – through the subtlest of signals – how the approaching humans are, both emotionally and physically.  Our posture (body language) and tone of voice send signals to which the horses respond, either by inviting us into their space, or using cues to communicate their unease.  Because horses are truly ‘in the moment’, the instant our behaviour changes (e.g. as a consequence of changing a thought, an image, a belief or an emotion), the horses’ responses also change.  Horses are forgiving of mistakes and help us to learn.  Responding to their feedback we can become more focused and aware, calmer and more confident, assertive without being threatening.

LeadChange has been running experiential programmes with horses since 2002, working with corporate executives and teams to develop their leadership, communication and team-working abilities.  The following examples illustrate how this work relates to various aspects of EI and emotionally intelligent leadership (as described by Goleman, Boyatzis and McKee).  In all cases, names have been changed to maintain client confidentiality.

Self-awareness Leaders with high self-awareness tune in to their inner signals, recognising how their feelings affect them and their work performance.  They are congruent and authentic, tend not to take themselves too seriously, and are open to feedback about where and how they can improve.  Accurate awareness of their abilities enables such leaders to be confident and play to their strengths; they often exhibit ‘presence’ – a level of self-assurance which makes them stand out in a group.

One such example:

‘Peter’ requested coaching on his approach when meeting new clients.  We set up an interaction in which Molly, a friendly mare, would represent (as a kind of living metaphor) one of Peter’s potential clients.  As Peter approached her, she took a few steps towards him – hesitated, stopped, then turned and walked away.  I asked Peter what was going on for him that might have discouraged her from coming right up to greet him.  He revealed that when he approached potential clients, he lacked confidence and had low self-belief (he was actually thinking ‘they will see me as a fraud’).  Molly’s response made him aware of the negative energy he communicated through his thoughts and beliefs – and how this energy affected his client meetings.  Through coaching, Peter let go of the negative patterns and connected with a sense of his identity as a capable, resourceful and trustworthy human being.  Silencing the voice of his ‘inner critic’, and trusting in himself, he was able to make a strong connection with Molly – who then followed him happily around the arena.

Another example can be seen with Bernadette:

Bernadette, a project leader, wanted help with a project which was not working for her.  Her equine partner, Vince, represented the project; a successful outcome would be to have him follow her at liberty around the arena in a figure-of-eight pattern.  Bernadette made a number of ‘false starts’ – taking steps towards her goal, but without Vince following.  Coaching questions revealed that, both with Vince and this particular project, she was visualising failure instead of success.  This was leading to a lack confidence and a low level of belief in her ability to achieve the result.  When she visualised successful outcomes – seeing the project working and seeing Vince walking with her – he immediately followed as she completed the figure-of-eight.  The learning was simple: visualising a successful outcome builds confidence and belief to levels which makes achievement possible.  Many of us accept this as a theoretical concept; working with Vince, Bernadette was given moment-by-moment feedback on the powerful energy she was able to create through visualisation. 

Self-management Emotionally intelligent leaders manage and channel their ‘negative’ emotions, maintaining focus and energy in the face of multiple priorities and conflicting demands.  They are comfortable with the ambiguities of life in complex organisations and demonstrate adaptability and flexibility in their responses to constant change.  Leaders with high self-management have a positive outlook, take initiative to create opportunities and remain calm in stressful situations.

For example: Horses have been described as ‘half-a-ton of emotional flight animal’; the ability to manage one’s emotions around them is a definite advantage!  Felicity, a horse owner, and executive in a global I.T. company, came on one of the very first LeadChange events. 

She recognised her behaviour at work as tending to be ‘passive-aggressive’ and wanted to learn how to be ‘quietly assertive’.  She went into a round pen with George, a highly sensitive Arab horse, and was asked to get him to trot.  To help with the task, she was given a three-foot length of thin rope to wave behind the horse (without touching him).  She started to swing the rope, at first gently, and then with increasing energy, until it was whirling around as fast as she could make it.  George just ignored her – relaxing to the point of almost falling asleep, as if he knew that ‘she didn’t mean it’.  I asked Felicity to step away from the horse and coached her to a place where she could access what it means (and how it feels) to be quietly assertive; a place of ‘meaning it’, but without aggression.  She approached George again, this time with the intention that he would trot, quietly swung the rope through 90 degrees (from hanging vertically to a horizontal position) – at which he immediately trotted smartly around the pen.  She had discovered the power of managing her emotions in a way that made her powerful and effective without the need for aggression.            

Social awareness – Socially-aware leaders tune in to a wide range of emotional signals, sensing the unspoken emotions of individuals and groups.  Empathy enables them to see other perspectives, and feel what others are feeling.  Such leaders detect social networks and read power relationships in teams and organisations.

Our corporate team workshops combine team exercises and individual coaching.  On a recent workshop, we asked a team of managers to lead three horses at liberty around the arena and between two upright poles.  The team had a quick task-focused discussion on how to get the job done (this tends to be the typical approach taken by corporate teams in the UK), and proceeded to approach the horses.  We paused the exercise and asked how everyone was feeling about what was happening.  One team member confessed to being nervous at the idea of being close to the horses; this was creating a degree of anxiety which was evident to us (and the horses!), but was completely missed by the other, task-focused team members.  A facilitated discussion followed on ‘task’ and ‘relationship’, and how the two need to be balanced in order to create high performing teams.  This new awareness allowed the team to create appropriate roles (not everyone had to get close to the horses in order to achieve the goal), and to provide support for the team member who was less than comfortable.  By the end of the day, she had, with the help of her colleagues, overcome her nervousness, and was enthusiastically interacting with the horses.

Relationship management – Inspirational leaders have compelling vision; they create resonance and a sense of common purpose; they are persuasive and influential change catalysts who recognise the need for change, and maintain good relationships whilst they challenge the status quo.  Leaders with these skills manage conflict well, surfacing disagreements and redirecting energy towards common goals.  They are both team leaders and team players, working in harmony with others for the good of the organisation.

Nigel, A highly successful business coach came with his PA (who was also his wife) and support coach, for an experience with the horses.  I asked if they operated as a team, and whether they would like a team exercise; the answer in both cases was ‘yes’.  In the arena, I introduced them to Café, an imposing black horse, and asked them as a team to lead him at liberty around the arena.  I had hardly finished this request, and Nigel was 20 metres away in the corner of the arena, with Café at his shoulder.  His PA and support coach, still stood next to me, turned to each other and said (in harmony) ‘He does this all the time!’  I invited Nigel back to the group for a discussion on the meaning of team.  His initial response was ‘I need a team who can keep up with me!’  We explored the meaning and implication of the fact that he appeared to have a team that was not keeping up with him.  He admitted that it ‘was a little lonely’ out there on his own and, thanks to Café, they were able to have an open and honest discussion about the relationship management skills they all needed to develop in order to become the kind of team they wanted to be.     

In the words of delegates on recent LeadChange programmes:

“The course has been a real eye opener for me and I’m sure collectively for the group as well.  The ability to test the theory with immediate and true feedback is fantastic and sets you apart from every other development and coaching session I have attended”

“Approach with caution – there is nowhere to hide.  It’s life changing!”

“Horse sense is, in a very literal way, a truly (emotionally) intelligent way to approach leadership!”

For each area of emotional intelligence and emotionally intelligent leadership, we have many more examples of the power of learning experientially through interactions with horses. But don’t just take our clients’ word for it – come and try a LeadChange experience for yourself.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR – Andrew McFarlane has been delivering equine-facilitated learning (EFL) programmes since 2002, working initially with corporate clients, and more recently also with young people identified as being at risk of becoming NEET (not in education, employment or training). He is the founder and a director of LeadChange, a leading provider of ‘Courses with Horses’ to the corporate marketplace, and co-founder and a director of HorseHeard.

What a horse can teach you about leading your business

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

Spotlight on The Psychology behind Coaching with Horses  ‘And now for the Science bit….’

By Lindsay Corrigan BSc. MSc. Ch.Psychol

Equine Facilitated Learning (EFL) is a holistic approach, impacting cognitions, emotions and behaviour. The field of neuroscience has since the 1990s, detailed evidence of the complex neural feedback loops highlighting the partnerships between cognitive process and the processes labelled ‘emotional experiences’ – supporting our own theoretical position of the link between our thoughts and feelings, and how they shape our behaviour.

Spotlight 1: Finding out what we don’t know: Carl Jung, whose ideas underpin many of the development interventions and tools we use today (e.g . MBTI), refers to bringing conscious awareness to our unconscious views of our self-image and beliefs.  Neuro-linguistic Programming (NLP) also focuses on addressing the automatic patterns of thinking which reside in our unconsciousness, to change our behaviour.  Cognitive Behavioural  (CB) approaches, well researched and scientifically supported, suggest similar changes can be brought about by raising awareness and dealing with our conscious thoughts and beliefs.

Spotlight 2: Knowing what we are good at: Authentic leadership and team membership, starts with an individual really knowing and understanding their ‘true self’(Jung). Working with the horses, creates a safe, clean space for individuals to see how the unconscious habits and thinking patterns they rely on play out in a novel situation.  This provides a fantastic opportunity for strengths based development, as positive thoughts and feelings trigger effective behaviours which bring observable results.

Spotlight 3: Accelerating new learnings: Just as NLP does not require lengthy unpicking of personal issues, working with the horses offers a quick, high impact process, cutting to the core, which brings meaningful insights to our participants to take back to work and home. We support people to be released from the unhelpful habits and thinking patterns that are slowing their growth.

Spotlight  4: Embedding new patterns: Due to the horses preference to live moment by moment, and not hold grudges about our failings, we are presented with a priceless opportunity to try, and retry, different strategies in a single session. This runs like a condensed version of the valuable ‘between session’ CBT exercises.  Each individual finds approaches that work for them and sit comfortably with who they are.

Spotlight 5: Increasing readiness for change:  EFL arms individuals with the tools and strategies they need to manage themselves in a variety of environments. As in Gestalt approaches, we focus on raising being present, having self-awareness in the moment, developing self-knowledge and building confidence, to make good choices in future situations.

Spotlight 6: Remove the threat of feedback: Shifting how people seek and perceive feedback, and what they do with the information gathered. Recognising that we have the resources to adapt and change ourselves to have a more positive impact on our environment, empowers our participants.

Spotlight 7: Connection is the key: Leadership and team work is all about relationships.  Social relationships need to be high quality and sincere, but also be beneficial to all parties.  Visually seeing and understanding clearly how we impact others and how we are affected by others behaviour, is a golden ticket to building better connections with clients and colleagues.

3 major problems with traditional leadership development training (and how to solve them)

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

For many years, organisations have spent time, money and resources on improving the leadership capability in their organisations through leadership training.

However, according to a Mckinsey & Company survey, adults typically retain just 10% of what they hear in classrooms.  Cramming all the key learnings into one lengthy training makes logistical sense, but it greatly restricts learning retention. Furthermore, the focus is usually on skills and behaviours which don’t go deep enough to result in real change.

The 3 major problems are:

  1. Limited transfer of learning.

“I have always considered myself more as a people person rather than an animal person, but throughout the day, it became apparent that leading a horse is just like leading people: you need to set a vision, be clear on objectives and engage effectively in order to get a great result.” Sebastien Le Roux, VP – GlaxoSmithKline

We only move from knowing to doing when changes take place at a deep neurological level – through insights (‘aha’ moments), which create complex new neurological connections. One of the problems with traditional learning approaches are their limited ‘stickability’. You attend a programme, and knowledge is acquired, but the challenge comes with putting the learning into practise in a sustainable way.  When you go back to your day job, clients and emails take priority and applying that valuable learning takes a back seat.  This creates a gap between theory and practice; between awareness and action; between what we know and what we do.

So, how do you create these ‘aha moments’?  Kolb’s Experiential Learning Theory (ELT) states ‘knowledge is created through the transformation of experience’ – in short, insight comes from experience.  This approach to learning through creating new insight is the basis of coaching and peer advisory groups such as Vistage and Entrepreneurs Organisation Network.  They create a safe and confidential environment that harness the learning cycle to help members gain new insights and develop more effective strategies.

It’s this that makes experiential learning with horses so powerful, as you experience the difference. So, is this a new fad or a truly beneficial way to enhance learning? Kolb’s recent research into equine facilitated learning seeks to answer that. His research found interactions with horses facilitated an accelerated learning cycle, and what’s more he found that working with the horses forms powerful episodic memories that inform future interactions. This means that the impact of the learning lasts well beyond the initial experience.

Our CEO Rosalie, who regularly delivers our equine facilitated learning sessions,  says she’s had many instances where clients report having a ‘Puzzle’ or ‘Tinkerbell moment’ – where, following their session, they ‘tap into’ their experience with the horse at future pivotal times, such as important meetings, negotiations or interviews, to get a better outcome.

  1. Role play vs Real play.

“The experience with horses addresses and magnifies all the key leadership skills in a concentrated and non-simulated environment, and provides instant and unbiased feedback and gives immediate opportunity to take corrective actions and see the results.” Product Development Director, Motorola

Many training programmes focus on developing skills. The challenge with doing this away from the work environment means it is necessary to role play scenarios, and ‘act’ how you would behave at work. When we role-play it can be hard to behave authentically in what is clearly not a ‘real-life’ situation. Furthermore, the feedback you receive to improve the skill is less tangible in the simulated environment, so when you return to work you still need to learn to apply those skills to a ‘real life’ situation.  The alternative is real play. Horses are

authentic beings and interacting with them is for real. Working at liberty gives a horse choice in how it responds and creates the opportunity for leaders to test how well they create followership.  By interacting with horses on the ground (non-ridden) participants receive instant, honest, and importantly non-judgemental, feedback on how they ‘show up’, and through non-directive coaching can make changes to their thinking, emotional state and body language to get a different response.  The changes they make are reflected instantly in a dramatic and memorable way by the response of the horses. This allows critical ‘in the moment’ feedback that results in rapid skills development and importantly allows you to experience success – creating a ‘mental memory’, an emotional ‘state’ that you can ‘tap’ into or draw on later.

  1. Focus on the ‘what’ and ‘how’ over the ‘why’

“Who am I? How do I project, lead and communicate? Before today I had my own perceptions. A horse called Monte has taught me otherwise. Thanks Monte, you have given me a completely new vision on leadership and expectation.”

Managing Director, Organon Laboratories

Often the focus of learning is on new skills and behaviours which can be easily seen and measured through your actions. They are tangible and visible elements of what we do.  Behaviours are the ‘what’ and skills are the ‘how’.  However, by working with the ‘who’ and ‘why’ we engage with your sense of self, identity and personal values.  You can then start to explore how values and beliefs support or hinder your leadership, the drivers of your self-belief, how you interpret events in terms of your own self-worth, whether you believe something is possible or impossible, whether or not you feel motivated.

By working at these higher neurological levels, we help leaders find the ‘keys’ to make personal changes, which are then observable in your behaviour. The ‘Courses with Horses’ go beyond behaviours, skills and competencies to explore beliefs and identity. Horses are adept at reading intention and authenticity, and by mirroring this in their behaviour, they provide participants with instant honest feedback – allowing leaders to ask – “who am I?” and “who do I want to be?”.