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Leadership learning from horses

To be an effective leader, you need to be confident and proficient in viewing things from many different perspectives.  Building rapport and trust with your team and colleagues through your communication and behaviour is central to success.  Horses are prey animals and they rely heavily on their awareness and understanding of the environment.  So as leaders, what could we learn from the habits of horses and the way they analyse the environment?

Challenges and change in the workplace are a common theme and effective communication is vital to smooth transitions and decision-making.  But do you realise just how much of a critical element your body language and tone are in ensuring a message is understood and appreciated?  According to Lisa Brice who writes for Management Issues, “If our words say one thing but our body language and tone are saying another, then others will rely on the non-verbal clues to determine what we are really saying!”  Horses rely 100% on non-verbal communication and their survival relies on this, so appreciating how they do this and taking learning points on how we can heighten our sensory acuity is very beneficial.  Taking away words and focusing on the impact of our body language will provide us with immediate, useful feedback.  After all, according to Albert Mehrabian, our level of appreciativeness for a message depends on three elements; words account for 7%, tone of voice accounts for 38%, and body language accounts for 55% of the liking.

Managing our emotional state for peak performance involves reaching an optimal level where our heart, mind and emotions are operating in a state called ‘coherence’. Working at this level will increase our mental and emotional flexibility and ability to manage ourselves and our work.  According to Lisa Brice, the key to achieving peak performance on demand is altering how our body, specifically our heart, responds to negative emotions. Research shows that we are programmed to pick up on heart rhythms of those around us, which explains why when entering an office full of negativity and confrontation, it will naturally impact on us and our performance. Unless faced with a dangerous ‘flight’ situation, horses have a consistently calm heart rate causing them to naturally be in a state of ‘coherence’.  Consequently, when humans have interacted with horses, they often feel much calmer and focused and even our ability to think creatively and strategically is increased.

Leadership starts from within.  To be an effective leader, we need to be consistently aligned to our goals and strategy to ensure authenticity and trust in our messages.  It is important in leadership to understand the link between trust and respect; respect is necessary to ensure a level of trust is established.  We can learn this process from horses as the article on Management Issues goes on to explain; ‘Horses link trust and respect in their minds. If they can’t respect us then they can’t trust us to protect and lead them from danger.’ People management skills are heightened by interaction with horses, as horses rely on leaders to develop trust and connection in the herd.  In the workplace, trust and connection are qualities that form the basis of high-performing teams.

Working and living in the moment will guide you to leadership success.  Horses don’t post-rationalise situations and as they project their emotions through their behaviour, these two factors cannot be separated; it is clear-cut to distinguish how they are feeling.  As a leader, this is how you need to act; do not act a different way to the way you are feeling.  Leaders need to be fully attentive and working in the present with people, rather than letting the past affect present situations or worrying about the future, which will result in you being distracted and not acting actively and fully present.  Listening intently and making your emotions clear will heighten your awareness and focus.

Are you interested in learning a different approach to building leadership, communication and team work within all levels of your management structure?  Hemsley Fraser’s Equine Assisted Learning – Training for Leadership is a proven experiential training method; delivering valuable leadership, team building and well-being experiences that translate directly back to the workplace.  To find out more, visit our website.

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