I have recently been reminded of the importance of being present as a leader…by a horse!

A few weeks ago, Paul Hunting at Horsejoy invited me to the Cotswolds for a day’s authentic leadership experience, along with my friends at DNA Definitive, Dr Paul Thomas and Andy McCann.

Having first come across Paul’s work of coaching leaders using his horses around ten years ago, I jumped at the chance of experiencing a taster session and I wasn’t disappointed.

We made our way to the paddock and Paul introduced us to his horses. Watching him from a short distance, it was clear that Paul has a unique relationship with each one, a bond that was a joy to watch. After he had introduced us and we got to know each of them a little more, Paul set us off on our first leadership task – “ask the horse to walk around you“.

A simple task, I thought. After all, I held the reins and was in control.

Lesson #1 – never be fooled into believing you are ever in control.

Managers will often seek to be in control of situations – and of people. After all, that’s what management is about. Don’t believe me? Look up the definition of management on Google and you will find that it is: the process of dealing with or controlling things or people.

[pullquote]although I’ve been doing this work with horses for over 20 years, it still amazes me how acute their perceptions of ‘invisible energetics’ are
– Paul Hunting[/pullquote]

If it ever seems like you are in control, then do something, just about anything, to remind you that it is an illusion!

Back to the horses.

I gently waggled the reins, gestured with the riding crop and instructed the horse to “walk round“, but he simply stood there looking at me. Paul asked if I had been clear on the task at hand, to which I replied “of course“.

Why then,” he asked, “did you instruct rather than ‘ask’?

I had no answer to that one. It felt like I’d fallen into a well concealed trap, only this was one of my own making!

Lesson #2 – be clear on what you communicate.

There is a saying that goes something like “the meaning of your communication is the response you get“. Well, if this is true then the meaning of mine at that moment was clearly for the horse to remain still with a vacant stare!

I started to think of how else I could do it, how I had seen Paul do it a little earlier when he gave us an example and how I’d seen others lead the horse around in a circle on the videos from the Horsejoy website.

Lesson #3 – be present!

In that moment, I was anywhere else than with the horse. I was ‘thinking’ so hard about what had been (the past) and what might be (the future) that I had lost the sense that comes with being in the here and now, with the ability to respond to what is in front of you without any pre-conceived notions or judgements.

There is a lot of talk about authenticity in modern leadership and I fully subscribe to this. Being true to oneself and to others is a powerful way to behave. But maybe in that moment with the horse, I realised there is something more.

To be fully present as a leader, to respond in the moment to the needs and wants of the people in your team is key. Let go of judgements formed from what has gone before or what you imagined might be, and simply dance in the moment.

What happened next, you ask? Well, I grounded myself in the here and now of the paddock, let go of the absurd idea of being in control and simply asked my horse to walk around.

As if he had been waiting for me to sort all this stuff out for myself, my horse gently set off in a circle around me – task complete.

When I got clear, so did my horse!

This experience was quite profound and I aim to work with Paul and his horses in the future. Meanwhile, if you want to get in touch to find out more or maybe book your own experience, simply go to his website and fill out your contact details.

Alternatively, drop me a line and I’ll gladly put you in touch with him.

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