Leadership According to a Horse

No-one I speak to disputes the fact that we live in a VUCA world full of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. We are living in a world where change is ever greater, where the future is less predictable, where the options increase exponentially, and the way we think about these options has undoubtedly changed.

Today, leaders are inundated with huge amounts of information and need to make decisions faster than ever. However, there is no way that just one person can manage that volume of data. Increasingly organisations are realizing the power of shared leadership and collective teams to help them navigate this volatile marketplace.

Whilst many might think that the concept of Shared Leadership is a new phenomenon, the fact is that in nature animals have been applying the principles of shared leadership for literally millions of years.

Take a herd of horses for example.  They have existed on this planet for over 45 million years, compared to the 6 million years that humans have inhabited the earth. They have learnt to be agile and adapt to their changing environments through sharing leadership and can teach us some key leadership skills to help us survive in these challenging times.

In a herd of horses, leadership is shared.

The lead mare sets the direction and pace of the herd. The lead stallion keeps the herd together and protects it from predators. Each member of the herd has a role in protecting the health of the herd. All of the horses in the herd contribute to the socialisation of new or young members, teaching them what behaviours are acceptable and correcting those who could behave in ways that could compromise the health of the herd. The overwhelming goal of the herd leadership is to create unity, harmony and collaboration whilst keeping the herd safe.

Safety is a key consideration for herd members because horses are prey animals, so they live under threat of attack every day. The herd leaders need to create and maintain what Simon Sinek refers to as a Circle of Safety. They need to foster an environment free of danger and give the herd members a sense of belonging, the power to make decisions and offering trust and empathy.  And guess what that is what we need to do as leaders in the workplace too.

The Diamond Model of Leadership

Based on the principles of the herd the Diamond Model of Leadership, developed by June Gunter of Teaching Horse, aptly reveals that for horses to place their trust in their leaders, they must know four things about them.  The same four things that our team members want to know about us.

  1. Attention – when leaders are paying attention they can detect even the most subtle shifts In the environment
  2. Direction – leaders give clear direction of how to respond to these shifts
  3. Energy – through assessing the situation leaders decide on the energy and pace required to respond to the situation
  4. Congruence – leaders display congruence of their inner and outer expressions and are aligned in your actions.  Ultimately the herd members must know that the leaders have their best interests at heart, at all times, and are not acting in a self-serving manner.

Attention, Direction, Energy, Congruence: When leaders demonstrate these characteristics and skills the herd become confident in their leadership. And the bottom line is that confidence in the leader makes the herd agile in times of change.

And the same is true for our teams in the workplace.  To gain confidence, leaders must demonstrate they are paying attention to what is going on their organisation. They must be present and able to see the entire picture and what is happening.  They need to quickly make decisions and give clear direction to the team with focused, inspiring energy that engages the team members to take action. Finally, leaders need to be authentic and have a clear, unambiguous intention that is trusted by the team.  Leaders need to act from the perspective of “we” rather than “me”.

When these four attributes are present and aligned in leaders it inspires confidence in their leadership and makes the organisation agile to respond to the changing business environment.

And if you don’t believe me, I challenge you to go and experience Horse Assisted Leadership Transformation (HALT). If you don’t show up and pay attention, have clarity of direction, walk with purpose and be congruent in your actions, you will not be seen as an inspiring, compelling leader who the horse trusts and so he will not walk with you. But guess what, neither will your team members. They might not be so immediate in their feedback as the horse, but over time they will get disillusioned, lose trust and respect for you resulting in decreased productivity and profitability.


Photo Credit: Pixabay

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