Category Archives: Leadership Development

Chapter 2 Brendon part 2

After fiddling around with the halter (how could such a  simple bit of equipment be so hard to deal with) for about ten minutes, putting it on and off the patient old gelding, Brendon finally had it mastered. His job was to approach one of the horses, catch it  and put the halter on and lead it back to the group. He was glad he was going first, leading by example. He watched Anna when she had caught Ostara and led her away and again when she had collected Hunter and brought him over for the halter lesson. He was confident it would get this done quickly and give the others something to aspire too. Nothing like a bit of rivalry to bring out the best in the team. He’d had his eye on Jelani from the start.

Muscular and gleaming, a haughty look, he looked like a man’s horse. A horse that people would be in awe of and would thus know his master was also a person to be reckoned with.

Lex selected the grey mare Cloud for him to work with,  however, and that was ok too. She looked a sweet gentle thing and he was sure she would respond well to him. He set off confidently the way he had seen Anna do and as he got close he held out the halter and rope to Cloud expecting her to turn her head into him and allow him to slip it  over her head. Hunter had responded to his offering the halter and he saw no reason the mare would behave differently. Of course Hunter was already caught and just standing there having the halter taken on and off, but that was a minor technicality.

To his surprise instead of turning to him, Cloud turned away and stepped just out of reach. She didn’t run from him. She didn’t seem scared of him, she just stayed outside of his grasp. He moved round where he was sure she could see him, remembering the safety lecture and the discussion about how horses see and where their blind spots are but again she just stayed outside of his reach. He turned to look back at Anna for guidance and as he did so he felt rather than heard a movement behind him. He glanced over his shoulder and saw Cloud had moved closer to him so he turned to her thankfully to catch her and dammit if she didn’t immediately move away from him.

Perplexed as to what to do he nether less kept trying. He  was patient, he knew about waiting for the right moment but they continued in their odd little dance around the arena. Eventually Anna came up to help.. “What are you offering her Brendon?”  I’m giving her the opportunity to see I have patience and I am not going to hurt her, I’m just offering her the chance to let me catch her so we can stop all this walking around. “What have you changed since the beginning? “ Well nothing, I am just being patient. “ Was there any moment when things were different?” Well yes when I turned my back on her, she almost came up to me. “So what do you think she felt that was different at that moment”. Brendon thought about it for a while but still could not quite see what it was so Anna explained to him again about how horses are very sensitive to the energy we put out and that they can perceive energy as pressure. Brendon didn’t  think he had been putting out a lot of energy. He didn’t wave his arms like he saw Anna do when she was getting the whole heard to move earlier. His step had been slow and measured, he hadn’t raised his voice.

“What about your intent and your focus?” Anna asked.

Brendon thought about it and realised he has been intensely focused on what he was doing, In fact other  than he and the mare nothing else had existed. He had forgotten about the others, even about the other horses, all his attention had been focused on the mare.

“Your energy is pushing her away “ said Anna. It’s not that she is running away from you, but she is not comfortable being near you. She  is just hanging out where it feels safe to her.

With Anna’s help he went back to his task but this time being alert to slight changes in the mare and giving her opportunities to come to him by giving her room rather than always putting the pressure on her. When she finally let him catch her he felt a huge sense of accomplishment. Not that he had caught her, but that he had earned her trust. In the following debrief he was very interested to hear Gemma say how she often felt like the mare when in meetings with Brendon. He got an insight into why she seemed to be getting worse not better under his encouragement and started thinking about what he could do to change his approach, not just to Gemma, but by looking for the small signs people were giving him so he could modify the amount of energy he was directing at them.

Later he watched Gemma working with Jelani and was shocked when she suddenly exploded and yelled at the horse. Now I understand the problems with that team, he thought. This is something Gemma really needs to work on, how to stand her ground, not be pushed around till she feels she has to lash out to make room for herself. I shall have to talk to Andrew to see is he knows of a program she could do to learn to firm up. It’s not a problem I really understand, as firming up has never been an issue for me, it just feels natural.

On the bus on the way back to the city Brendon is deep in thought. He really felt the horses cut through all the head talk. It was one thing to be told something or to role play it but the reactions from the horses were real. And he was still quite taken with the image of himself astride a great black horse like Jelani. Perhaps he could take up riding as a new sport now he wasn’t so fast on the football field any more. He watched the cross country jumping at the Olympics and that looked like a really exciting sport that took guts and determination. His daughter would be delighted, she had been pestering for riding lessons for a year, It would be something they could do together.

As the sun set Cloud enjoyed the last of her dinner. This time she had managed to get a bowl well way from Ostara so she could relax a bit more. It felt good to be just hanging out with the herd.

Chapter Three Anna

Anna

“I had a dream”. Anna wonders how many times Martin Luther King has been misquoted. I had a dream suggests something finished. Either the dream has been realised or not, but the dream itself is past tense. “I have a dream” is so much more powerful. Something is being created in the now. When Anna was a young girl, she had a dream. There were variations that ranged from Olympic Glory to living on the vast plains of some unnamed country sat bared legged, almost centaur like, on a wiry little pony. No matter the setting the heart of the dream was always anchored in the connection between her and her horse. The link that bound them together and surmounted difficulties like language and species.

Of course that was a little girls dream.

Boarding school, University, marriage, a corporate career, all the usual mundane tasks filled Anna’s days for years. Horses were always a part of it, sometimes fleetingly, a stolen glance when driving past a paddock full, sitting glued to the TV in the early hours of the morning watching others sail over fences or dance around the arena in Top hat and Tails. Then more permanently culminating in the founding of her own small horse stud.

But there was something missing.

During her career seemingly chained to her desk, Anna’s horses were her solace. Whilst she was careful not to go straight from a particularly frustrating day, the sort that left her angry and brittle, to the horses, she found that once she had taken the edge off herself with something physical, just by spending time with them it calmed her and enabled her to think more clearly. The refrain from “Drift Away” played in her head but  it wasn’t just the beat of a rock and roll tune that could carry her away it was also the beat of galloping hooves and the strong hearts of her horses.

Day after day I’m more confused;
I look for the light in the pouring rain.
You know that’s a game that I hate to lose.
I’m feelin’ the strain; ain’t it a shame?

Oh, give me the beat, boys, and free my soul;
I want to get lost in your rock and roll and drift away.
Give me the beat, boys, to soothe my soul;
I want to get lost in your rock and roll and drift away.

“Drift Away” by Mentor Williams, 1970


I need something different she had thought, something more. Something where I can really make a difference not this endless round of petty politics, pressure to produce without the proper resources or structure to support us. I feel trapped in a box I can’t break out of and its walls are getting closer and closer, squeezing me. What a relief it was then when Anna’s company launched into a coaching and development process. Anna’s mind latched on to this, for her, new field like a magnet, irresistibly drawn. Ever the researcher, the seeker she decided to take the jump out of her well-worn groove and take up a new career.

But still there was something missing.

A chance meeting with Lex changed all that. They met because of a horse Anna had for sale and as she was checking Lex out to see if she was a suitable candidate to take on a young horse, Anna discovered Lex was a gifted development coach of many years’ experience and part of her motivation in bringing horses back into her own life was her interest in the developing field of Horse Assisted Education and Leadership Development. It was one of those moments where you feel a jolt. This is “it”.  It wasn’t the first time Anna had come across the field, but she wasn’t ready for it at that time. She was only newly out of her old career and feeling vulnerable, not ready to take her relationship with her horses out of the private realm and turn it into to something shared. Sure she bred and sold horses but that was a completely different dynamic.

Hunter wickers softly, waiting for the answering calls. The sun is starting to creep above the horizon and the small herd is restless, waiting for a sign the humans are one the move and soon to deliver the morning feeds. One of the youngsters, impatient, starts to bang a stable door with a hoof, while the broodmares jiggle the gate of their paddock. Foals, oblivious to the timing of delivered feed, are content to butt their dams in the flank to get the milk flowing more freely.

Anna works her way efficiently through the morning routine. Everyone standing on 4 legs? Check. Pump not running constantly. Check. Everyone fed. Check.

The mixed herd to be used for the days’ workshop are given a quick brush and then let back out in to the holding paddock. They bicker a little amongst themselves. Ostara, always the bully makes her presence felt, but knows better than to take on the patriarch, Hunter. He may not throw his weight around the way she does, but she won’t mess with him. Funny how despite his higher position in the herd pecking order than her own, the young ones are content to hang around with him but give her a wide berth.

Most of Anna’s clients are not horse people and Ostara is only used in the initial observation exercise, but occasionally there is someone who has a lot of expertise with horses and runs through the basic exercises with ease so Ostara is a useful to offer them a bit of a challenge and get them out of the “horse person” space.

Anna turns her mind to the day’s workshop. She met with Lex, Andrew and Brendon a month ago to work out the general plan for the day.  She has been working with Andrew for a while and knows he is well versed as to when a client is ready for this type of work. There needs to be an openness and awareness though there is nothing wrong with a bit of skepticism. Until people have actually worked with the horses it is difficult to conceive how the process works. Brendon came across as a force of nature. Elemental even within his sombre business suit. He was enthusiastic about the work he and his team have been doing with Andrew but Anna could feel his energy beating at her in waves, much like a young colt bouncing around on the end of a rope. As Andrew was describing some of the issues in his team Anna could already see how that intenseness could be felt as intimidating by some, despite its positive intent.

She gives Jelani and Khan a quick stroke as she passes them and holds her hand out to Hunter, who drops his heads and rests it against her chest and she tips her head so they are forehead to forehead.  Drawing on the peace of that moments she centers herself, ready for the day ahead.


Through the Eye of a Horse

 

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So how am I going to learn about myself as leader from a horse? What do they know about working in teams? They don’t have to juggle a family and a job!

Horse people love taking photos of horses eyes. There is something fascinating about their size and depth. The real mirrors they are when the light hits them right.

We are drawn to them in other ways. The gaze of a horse is never judgemental. Curious, alarmed, kind, gentle, happy, sad perhaps, they can convey all these emotions, but never judgement. That peculiar human manner of thought. Judgment comes from a place of fear and blame. We judge others but we also judge ourselves – often even more harshly. We can judge others for what we fear in ourselves – how much easier to blame someone else than accept responsibility  for our own contribution. Its not hat horses don’t have fears, its just their fears are based in real and potential threats, or the possibility of them. They fear being eaten, being ostracized, being left alone and vulnerable to be eaten. So they are alert but carry one with life in a normal manner. Just as we did when we were co- evolving with them.  Most of us living comfortable lives in an affluent western society don’t have to be fearful every moment of the day of what might jump out and attack us whilst we sit at out office desk, but our body still reacts to perceived threats in the same way. So when our thoughts and ruminations flood our bodies with the physiological responses threats we develop behaviors to manage how we feel. One of those ways is sitting in judgement. Horse come from a place of Acknowledgement rather than judgement. They acknowledge there is a threat or a possibility of threat. They take responsibility for a response – be curies, investigate, get to a safe distance, relax, back to grazing. Their behavior comes from a place of love, of being connected, being part of the social system of the herd, even a herd that has members with only two legs each instead of four.

When we take our ingrained habits, our way of being at home, at work, in our team, into the arena with the horses they look on us as a conundrum to be solved. How to be safe with us”? How to connect? When we see our our actions laid out in the relationships of the arena, those between horses and humans and humans and humans, we get the opportunity to be different. To get the immediate non judgemental feed back the horses are so adept at. Can I be less threatening? Can I stop my fears being played out as aggression, can I remain soft and gentle but still be assertive. Can I hold firm the boundaries that matter and let go of the shields that are not necessary? How do I be more vulnerable and thus stronger. Allow myself to trust and show my true nature?

All these questions and more are present in the arena with the horses. As we work through them in the present moment, in a mindful fully engaged way, we work towards building teams and relationships based on open and honest communication. Where conflict is not a threat but a creative way to approach opportunities. Where we can concentrate on working towards a common purpose without the distractions of judgement and blame.

The “eye’s” have it!

 

Role Play

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Often we ‘train’ or prepare for leadership by role playing. Role playing certainly has some great benefits as it mostly only requires a  bit of imagination on the behalf of the ‘players’ and allows for specific scenarios to be practiced. In fact, at times people can be so caught up in the role they are playing that the emotions we encounter in real life are provoked. On the other hand it can become simply an intellectual exercise and you are practicing making decisions a ‘cold” state, whilst in real life you will often be making those same decision under pressure and in the grip of some level of emotion.

When we are in our rational intellectual ‘cold’ state you are not a good predictor of how you will react when emotions are raised – along perhaps with your blood pressure! The only way you can reliably know how you will respond under pressure is to be under  pressure.

When at Horsanity we ask you to be a leaders with the horses you are not being asked to play at a role, but to actually take  up that role. The situation may be different but we are challenging you a little, moving you outside of your comfort zone just enough, when you ask a 600kg animal to put their trust in you and follow you of their own free will. When you work with others and the horses as a team you need to be fully aware of your emotions, reactions or responses. You need to manage uncertainty, frustration, non verbal communication, ability to impart clear intent and vision, and to be emotionally agile.

We are often asked “What can I learn about leadership from horses?”. The better question is “What can I learn about myself whilst leading a horse?”

Welcome to Horsanity

Over the last couple of years my attention has been taken up by developing Horsanity (both as a mental state and as a business) and this blog has been out in the back paddock quietly grazing, waiting for the day I am ready to pay it more attention.

Now it is being brought in, given a quick brush and a bucket of oats and is ready to take up its role as the official Horsanity blog .

At the moment we are getting ready to welcome the participants in the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia’s “ignite Pharmacy Leadership” program to our venue at Tashkent Friesians, located in Dungog  in the Hunter Valley. We have been involved with this fabulous program since its inception but up till now the workshop has been conducted in Victoria. the purpose of the program is to “spark innovation and influence the future”. The eight month program commences with the Horsanity workshop where participants build an awareness of them selves as a leader, develop non verbal communication skills, emotional intelligence and emotional agility, They arrive as a group of individuals and leave as a team.

 

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The Future of Leadership or Future Leaders?

I had a discussion with a colleague about the expression “Future Leaders” the other day and as  it often is the discussion centered around our subjective interpretation. Her point was that we shouldn’t be waiting for some “future time” to become leaders, we are all potential leaders now. The seeds of leadership are in all of us, it is a matter of realizing them, not waiting for leadership to be bestowed on us sometime in the future.  That is the philosophical view that sits at the heart of what we do with the horsework at Horsanity. Providing an experience that opens people to their own internal  leadership capability and how that integrates with their outer world.

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My interpretation was not about bestowing leadership on someone in the future, but about generational change. Who will be the leaders we see “in the future” in both formal and informal positions of leadership, those at the helm of organisations , professions or social movements. The highly visible leaders. To become those visible leaders, these leaders of the future need to be opened to their leadership capability now. A reason for working not just with today’s recognised organisational leaders, but also with those at the beginning of a career, in junior positions, at University, at school. It is why I am so excited to be working with the Future Leader Ignite program of the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia.

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And then there is the question of what is required to be drawn forth from leaders “in the future”. What new as yet un-dreamt of challenges will they need to meet? It is thus with great interest I read a report by the World Economic Forum from the Global Agenda Council on New Models of Leadership :

Tomorrow’s leaders will need to go beyond the limits of the system within which society operates today to perceive what those systems might become”

A new leadership space is opening that

will require a profound leader journey. At the heart of this journey is an inner and outer journey. The inner journey describes how the leader learns through reflection, mentoring and practice. The outer journey describes the crucible experiences in which leadership is forged and includes challenge, risk and working at the edge of the system“.

Enter Horsanity stage right!

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Innovation and Creativity – A beginning

I was doing a bit of musing about some low-tech innovations that I am the beneficiary of but first need to take the photo that explains it, so when an article appeared in my inbox about creativity, innovation the neuroscientific understanding of the process, I thought I’d talk about creativity and innovation in general.

So lets get clear on what I mean by creativity.

I feel the need to do so because for many years I had a very narrow definition of what creativity meant. Where or how I picked it up I don’t know but it  is so deeply seated that it tries every now and again to steer my thinking. In my little universe I divided people into two types, those who are creative and those who aren’t. Those who are creative are artistic, and those that are artistic do one of two things, paint (and draw) or play music. So if someone said to me “you are so creative”, I’d bemusedly deny it as both playing music and drawing are way out of my skill set. And besides, I’m a scientist I’d say. (Even though it is many years since I have worked in any scientific capacity, I still identify myself that way which is is why I get so excited about Neuroscience articles). So sorry all you photographers, writers, film makers, dancers, cake decorators, knitters of the world according to DjD you are neither creative nor artistic.

How silly is that! I probably got told in an art class at primary school that I had no future as an artist and from then on art meant painting and I was hopeless at it.

Here are a few definitions of creative garnered from almighty Google

  1. Characterized by originality and expressiveness; imaginative
  2. The tendency to generate or recognize ideas, alternatives, or possibilities that may be useful in solving problems, communicating with others, and entertaining ourselves and others
  3. Any act, idea, or product that changes an existing domain, or that transforms an existing domain into a new one
  4. Relating to or involving the use of the imagination or original ideas to create something
  5. Having or showing an ability to make new things or think of new ideas
  6. Generating new ideas and concepts, or making connections between ideas where none previously existed.

I particularly like the one from this mornings article “the purposeful generation and implementation of a novel idea”. Within an organisation that becomes valuable when it “results in a measurably useful outcome”. In fact we can all be creative (regardless of our ability to wield a hog bristle filbert) and we can develop our creativity given the right conditions.. Our organisations, our world, is crying out for us to increase our creativity in response to the ever increasing complexity of life. We need creativity to pervade everything from the response to how to improve customer service to tackling climate change and species extinction.

The first step –  Idea generation

A fallow field

After the rain

In traditional agriculture a field was left fallow (no crop) one year in three. A period of rest for the soil, that led to a stronger and more productive crop the following year. In order for creativity to flourish we need a fallow mind. Not an empty mind, a fallow field is not devoid of life, but one where there is space for new ideas to generate and be noticed. To put it another way, an open mind, a mind that is not overly constrained by rules. From a Neuroscience perspective – lower cognitive control. A playful mind

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When we take people out of their normal environment and into the paddock with our horses, we give them an opportunity to open their minds, to be a bit playful, to be unconstrained by the usual clutter of their work day mind. We offer them a fallow field in which to open to their creativity.

A Journey to Horsanity

Chances are if you are reading this, if you are not yet a horse owner, you are at the least someone who’s dreams resonate to the to sound of galloping hooves or the distant neigh on the wind. As horse owners, riders, lovers, dreamers  we are all, to some extent, aware of the almost mystical hold they have on us. In our horses we find something that talks to us without words, that binds us with emotion,  that both calms and excites our energy. It is not an accident that the horse has accompanied humans in their journey through the ages from wandering hunters to cubicle dwelling knowledge workers .

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Those ancient hunters did not have our sophistication of language, of tools, of machines to do some of our thinking for us. Rather, like the horse, they survived by being able to absorb and interpret the subtle changes in the world around them, to know without needing to analyze, to connect without having to explain. As we have flooded our bodies with the energy of our thinking brain, of our worry about the past, our concern about the multiples possibilities of the future, of the endless what if’s we have lost touch with being fully in the present with our bodies. We have silenced the messages of our emotions in response to everyday life and decisions, sidelining them into a small part of our lives, distrusting their power, their ability to trip up our rational, dispassionate, logical thoughts. Yet thoughts that do not listen to the messages of our energy, that rely purely on words, miss the largest part of what both others and our own bodies are trying to communicate.

Those of us lucky enough to have horses in our daily lives, even if not consciously aware of it, are able to take that metaphoric walk alongside the horse to that place where we can live in the now. By tuning into them, we tune out the maelstrom left over from our day at work. By joining the horse in the now, we find our own sanity.

Thus three women, corporate warriors all, were brought together through their knowing, from their horse sponsored sanity, to designs journeys for others to embark on; reigniting the creativity and innovation and leadership so much needed in our, doing, striving, busy corporate world. To bring together the wisdom of the horse and the creativity of the human. To open the doors of self-knowledge and awareness and to build paths to understanding and working with each other. To look not just at the individual but to look at the whole system in which they operate. To look at an organisation not as a machine which works like clockwork, each part meticulously carrying out it’s predetermined function, but as an organism that must always adjust and accommodate in order to reach peak performance. To take people out of their four walls into the paddock where they can reconnect with a forgotten or hidden self, but also take that approach back into the design of long term cultural change and leadership development initiatives.  To create Horsanity.

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Just because ….

Its a bit hectic at the moment. Big workshop coming up and have been busy preparing all the materials, packing the car with all the extra equipment (there is just enough room left for me) and trying to get all the things done that need to be done (that for some reason I have left till the last minute) before you go away.

We are off to introduce a group of people to “horse time” and here I am wondering how to find some for myself.

We called the business Horsanity for a reason as it is the horses that bring the sanity to our otherwise hectic busy working lives and it pains me to be sitting here (supposedly typing up materials) instead of outside sopping up a bit of that. So just to indulge myself I’ll share a few photos of my therapists.

 

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