Tag Archives: Leadership

Chapter 2 Brendon

Brendon

He woke up quickly as always, out of bed and half-dressed before his eyes were even fully opened. His mind playing catch-up with his body he started to think about the day he had planned with Andrew, his executive coach and leader of the Leadership development program Brendon and instigated. They worked well together. Andrew understood Brendon’s leadership philosophy. In fact back in school days they had played in the same football team though Andrew had long since given up football whilst Brendon still needed that hard physical outlet to clear his head and prove to himself he was still alive. Nothing like being ground into the dirt to make you realise you were a living breathing red blooded male! Brendon is a big believer in the benefit of team work, strong leadership, encouragement and engagement. His approach seemed to work well with most of his male managers, though not all, but he was perplexed at why the same approach was not working with his extremely capable female managers. He was particularly concerned about Gemma. She had come into his section as a future star. Bright and capable she had an excellent record and fast promotion but she seemed to be floundering. Brendon frequently threw her opportunities in meetings to show what she knew, what she could do, but she always backed away from the openings he gave her. The more he encouraged her the worse it got. She had also started to get some adverse ratings from her direct reports. It wasn’t that she was unhelpful or rode them too hard, it was that she could be moody and unpredictable, suddenly coming down hard on someone for some minor thing.

When Andrew had first suggested Anna and Lex and their Equine Leadership Workshops he had thought it sounded like a good day out for a bit of team building but Andrew convinced him there was more to it than that. That in fact working with the horses had been deeply transformational for Andrew himself and he knew the power of it. Brendon just hoped no-one got kicked, bitten or trampled on in the course of the day.

Cloud hung back at the edge of the herd as the morning feeds were dispensed. She let them jostle and push before she moved up to the last remaining bowl Unfortunately it was uncomfortably close to Ostara as none of the other horses wanted to be in striking distance, but Anna had made sure there was plenty of room between bowls so whilst she could never relax, her concentration always on the chestnut mare, Cloud was able to eat most of her feed before Ostara, having finished her own, chased her away from it.

As they had got nearer to the farm, Brendon’s excitement and worry and increased equally. He really relished the idea of being outside instead of stuck in a huge air-conditioned building like a million others but for slight difference in décor and design and doing something new was always interesting. On the other hand he needed to get to the heart of the problem with Gemma. He had been told if her ratings didn’t improve quickly she would be moved out of his department and he knew he needed her expertise. If only he could “fix” what was wrong with her. He knew she was dedicated and put in long hours, but her team were losing faith in her and the whole sections engagement scores were suffering. He looked across at her and saw her gaze out the window and a small frown came to his face. She glanced his way, seeming to feel his look so he turned way quickly to look out his own window.

It was good to see Anna and Lex again. He had met them briefly in the city when they had scoped out the day but this was the first time he had seen them on the farm. How capable they both looked. It gave him a lot of confidence.

The horse milled around in the arena for a while, they hadn’t been in there for a while so first they needed to check it out. Cloud was interested in the group of people under the awning, she knew Anna was there and she could smell the slight hint of liquorice coming from Anna’s direction. Lost in a licorice dream she failed to notice Ostara until she saw the teeth coming at her, then the wheel and kick. One hoof caught her squarely in the chest before she was able to get out the way. The two young geldings, excited by the circumstances started a mock battle, running and rearing and generally taking up space so Cloud moved away to the edge till things had settled down and she could slowly re-join 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!

 

The problem with Vulnerability

Like many people I first came across the work of Brene Brown through her TedEx Huston presentation (which at 13 055 030 and counting on the Ted platform alone is one of the most watched Ted talks ever) and have since dived in very deep to her work. There often seems to be two worlds in which knowledge operates. One if the academic world where a lot of rigor is placed around primary research, literature review and writing dry dense academic papers that are off-putting and intimidating for the large majority of readers, where the other is the free-form, largely unreferenced, highly anecdotal but highly accessible writing of various individuals who’s credentials are not always obvious and sometimes dubious.  What I love about  Brene Brown’s work is that it grows from her academic work, but it is so accessible to us all that it can touch and influence so many lives.

She does not run the Guru model. As someone talking to us about vulnerability she never claims to have beaten it, to have the the 5 tips to invulnerability, the 10 fail-safe strategies for overcoming imperfection, rather she makes herself entirely vulnerable and allows us to see her imperfect self. Good on her !

So what is the problem with vulnerability? Actually the problem is with our interpretation of the word, our confusion of it with weakness. As I am want to do, I googled the definition of vulnerability for its usage outside of the context of personal growth. Before I started the first phrase that had jumped to my mind was “the castle defenses were vulnerable to attack through the postern gate ” (don’t ask me why, perhaps because I went to school near a castle and I still carry a lot of baggage from my school years, fondly though I mostly remember them) which for attackers was perhaps better that the sewer! As we might also say something like the postern gate was a weak point in the castle’s defenses the mind goes “hmm they are vulnerable because there is a weak spot, therefor to be vulnerable is to be weak”.

So, Oxford Dictionary definition of vulnerable

“exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally: we were in a vulnerable position, small fish are vulnerable to predators”

Exposed to the possibility of attack! Wow. Every time you put forth a new idea, every time you are required to give or ask for feedback, every time you create something new or open your heart to someone you are exposed to the possibility of attack (or something that feels like attack) but if you do it anyway that is not being weak, that is being courageous.

I love this little clip about changing  language for better understanding “A new sign for Vulnerability”

And because new life is always vulnerable, young Renlyn TK, 3 days old 29 December 2013

Renlyn day three

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.

Chioce

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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Building strength through self-compassion

In my former life I was given an assessment by my peers that my greatest “skill” was compassion. I reacted very negatively to this feed back. Compassion after all did not seem to have any direct correlation to boosting our revenue, to giving clients accurate and timely results, to being able to advise them from a position of knowledge and business acumen or even to being able to transfer my (apparently non existent) skills to other in the business, Clearly they could not  think of anything nice and businessy to say about me so they came up with something that seemed nice whilst backhandedly giving me a slap about the chops. I almost spat, like cat.

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And I continued to beat myself up about being a waste of space, a failure as a good little worker bee, as a human being, if the only thing I was good at was being compassionate.

Do you see the hole here?

I may well have been perceived as being compassionate to others but there wasn’t a whole lot of self compassion going on. What was going on was a whole lot of repression, of just push it down, keep a lid on it, ignore the pain, grin and bare it. Write out those to do lists,  repeat a few affirmations, but above all do not under any circumstances acknowledge the pain.

The truth is that I did have those other skills; except perhaps for being timely, that has always been a struggle for me. Not being “on time” to get somewhere, I’m generally pretty good at that, it’s a simple goal, but to weave complex threads together to finish in a timely manner without getting lost in a maze of side roads and rabbit holes as something attracts my interest.

In the end I could not contain it any more. I had to do something and that something was to leave my business and enter a new one where my outward focused compassion was perceived (by me) as a more positive attribute.

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And along the way I started to develop just a little bit of self compassion. Wow, you mean I can be kind to myself as well as to others! Surely not. Does that not mean I am just giving my self a bit of self pity, or an excuse to slack off, to be a wuss? Not at all. To be have self compassion is first to be aware of the pain you are feeling, to be mindful, to acknowledge with no judgement and to accept and be self comforting in order to be resilient. Not to hide the pain, suppress it, try and make it go away.  Rather like the description of courage as being afraid but doing what has to be done anyway.

Recently I have been following the work of Kristen Neff and finding it is helping to build a process to rely on around what was developing ad hoc.

 

 

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.

Love is 2

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I was going to say “got to love your job” but that would have been wrong on at least two counts. For a start I don’t think of what I do as “just a job”.  Having been able to meld my passion for my horses with a way to reach people and allow them to access their own passion for life through leadership, it is my life. Or part of it. The other part that has been keeping me away from the keyboard, and hence this blog, is my love of travel.

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Its been a very busy few weeks. It started with a seminar we,

Horsanity, facilitated at the magnificent

Emirates Wolgan Valley Resort in the Blue Mountains. Its an extravagantly scenic location and 5 star facilities.

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From there I traveled to Daylesford in Victoria to attend an Equine Psychotherapy week long intensive. This was my final seminar leading to my accreditation as an Equine Learning Practitioner, Foundation Level based on a deep understanding of Gestalt principals.

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Then after all this forced time in gorgeous locations doing something I love I just had to take a holiday! I know, its a hard life but as they say, someone has to do it. The thing is though, its about choice. I remember the day I sat in front of my coach in my former business with the tears yet again streaming down my face saying “I have no choice, I can’t leave, I have loans to pay, obligations to people, I’d be letting people down” but he didn’t let me off the hook. There is always a choice, even doing nothing is a choice.

It took me awhile but to bring it to fruition but that day I finally made the choice to live a life that fills me with joy. Well most of the time, there are somethings you just have to knuckle down and do whether you like it or not, but as long as they are in service of your real intent then that’s ok, you can survive.

So where did I end up in my travels. Well after freezing my freckles off in a cold snap in Daylesford I melted them off at the other extreme in Kakadu and Kununurra taking in the scenery and wildlife.

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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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