The following is an extract from Jude’s book Leadership Beyond Measure and explores how you can give others an opinion without losing sight of your own opinion too.
As a novice horse owner, I’ve not done the usual British Horse Society training, and my methods may appear unconventional to most horse owners. I’ve learned by listening to my horses.
They know what they want. They have trained me to pay attention at a deep level, to a flick of an eye or an ear. I take the time to understand their wants and needs, and we decide between us how we do things, in a way that meets both our needs and desires. I don’t care if it meets the rule book. I do care whether it meets their needs.
People and horses are communicating non-verbally with us all the time. We mostly tune it out. That’s why we have conflict and grief in society. It’s why horses go lame. We sometimes have to get to a point of frustration before we can get people to listen. If you have someone in your team who is not co-operating, trust that there is a reason and be curious. My horses aren’t always easy, but when they play up, there is always a reason. It’s the job of a leader to pay attention, much more than we actually do. The horses have certainly taught me to do that. I never use force with them.
Having an opinion
We can learn much from how horses lead each other and apply the same ways with people too. I’m lucky that I get to practise this on a daily basis! Each of my horses has had to learn that when I give them an opinion, that doesn’t mean they get to call all the shots! I still have an opinion too. We work together with both of our opinions, equally. They soon learn this and recognise that I manage my boundaries and won’t be pushed around, any more than I would push them around.
An Invitation to come with you
If the horses stop at the gate, I get curious about what is happening for them. That doesn’t mean they always get their own way. It means I seek to understand them and negotiate. I have been misunderstood by others for being weak with my horses because I don’t lead them with a strong hand. I invite them to follow and give them a long lead rein, so they have a choice. I always suggest to my clients that they lead with a smile in the lead rope, and that they do the same with people too. Leadership is an invitation to join you.
Many people are afraid of giving a horse an opinion. I understand that. They are, after all, spirited and physically stronger than us. As a result, most of the horsemanship manuals will tell you that you need to dominate a horse and be clear that you are the boss or else you are unsafe. I think that is the old style of command and control leadership that’s still common with horses and people.
We miss out on deeper levels of connection and understanding if we fail to move forward into a place of shared leadership and collaborative working.
The same is true in business.
Relationship and connection
When I invite my clients to lead a horse with a long lead rope, it’s the relationship and connection that brings the horse with them willingly. That is leadership. I don’t believe that paying attention and inviting someone to come with you is a weakness. It is often more challenging than pushing and pulling someone into doing what you want them to do short-term, but it’s rewarding to see the willingness to engage.
I do wish I’d been able to listen and observe at such a fine level when I worked in a large corporation. Although I had a fantastic career and achieved some great things with my teams, I know I could be a much better leader now than I was then, thanks to the horses, and my deeper sense of listening.
Where could you pay more attention to your clients or team?
What might be the impact?
The Leadership Whisperers help senior leaders develop embodied leadership skills that have a profound impact in business. Through live events and workshops, Jude and Emma partner with horses who provide non-judgmental feedback, enabling clients to identify their strengths and where they get derailed so they can transform themselves into courageous and hugely influential non-verbal communicators.
Our corporate clients report significant results including resolving conflict, cultural change, improving financial performance, increasing sales and individuals gaining promotions.
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