What Horses Teach Us About Leadership

“Titles are granted, but it’s your behaviour that wins you respect.”

These are the opening words to the first practice of The Leadership Challenge by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner and the importance of these words rang out in my ears during last weekends workshop in Sweden when one of my students, Emilia asked me, “How do I get this horse to respect me”.  You see Emilia had been trying to move Maya, a rather dominant mare out of her space and Maya was flatly refusing to move.  In fact the more Emilia asked Maya to move the more belligerent and stubborn she became.  Emilia clearly needed to adopt another approach as her current behaviour was not working.

Model the Way; Inspire a Shared Vision; Challenge the Process; Enable Others to Act and Encourage the Heart are the Five Practices of The Leadership Challenge and increasingly I am seeing how these prove a great cornerstone for my Unbridled Success Retreats.  And yet ironically, these very same foundational cornerstones apply to horsemanship as so eloquently demonstrated by Buck Brannaman at a clinic in Canada.

Model the Way is about demonstrating behaviour – “to gain commitment you must be a model of the behaviour you expect of others.”. 

It is about being clear on what is important to you and being prepared to set the example. Clear on his commitment Brannaman’s presence demonstrates he is prepared to help others in their horsemanship journey. The words and topics he uses are not often heard in the boardroom, but the concepts couldn’t be closer. Brannaman talks about having a picture in your minds eye of what you want to do before you start. “Do less than what you think it’s going to take and then do what it takes to get the job done.” Through stories of his own struggles, his admiration for his mentor Ray Hunt and humorous interpretations of his teachings Brannaman creates an Inspired Shared Vision.

For any business organisation to succeed it is essential that there is a leader, someone who can lead from the front by setting the vision and more importantly getting others to share in that vision.  Only if all team members are aligned to the vision will the organisation then be able to get into flow and success will be effortless.  Just think about Apple or Google.  The team members are highly aligned with the companies vision and so they move mountains to help contribute to the success of those organisations.

Buck Brannaman’s word’s, much like Steve Jobs, don’t simply inspire, but they Challenge the Process and engage people into action. By sharing and demonstrating activities where a person learns from their failure, or as Brannaman puts it “an opportunity to get better” he sets it up for the horse human relationship to improve. Whilst the goal of attending Buck Brannaman’s workshop was to improve to horsemanship skills, the students took away a lot more because as his website claims “horses and life it’s all the same to me.”.  Brannaman creates possibility. He Enables Others to Act limited only by the level of commitment each is prepared to make.

Through his skill Brannaman is able to foster collaboration and build trust, so others believe they too can achieve something they previously thought unattainable, He Encourages the Heart.

As I write this I reflect on the fact that the Waterhole Rituals too incorporate these five fundamental principles because we need to inspire our horse to perform, not from a place of need or want from our part but because we bring a programme to him that is interesting and exciting.  Our horse understands our vision and offers his performance from the heart when we step up and become the leader he wants us to be.

How are you showing up as a leader for your horse?

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