Category Archives: Leadership Development

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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