Tag Archives: teamwork

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!

 

Building resilience – March 2017 Newsletter

sun moments 20161125-06-36-57-Fiilies back paddock-IMG_4176 It’s not what life throws at you but how you respond – how many memes are there floating around based on that sentiment? What does it really mean though? To me, it’s about resilience.

If you look up the definition of resilience what pops up first is:

  • the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.
  • the ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape; elasticity.

I wasn’t sure at first about the word toughness as it conjured a more unyielding response, but with reflection about the sort of toughness that is still elastic, my opinion changed. You can for instance look at the difference between one of those big fit balls and a party balloon. Both can move and flex to pressure but one you can sit on the other you cannot. One is tough, the other is not.

Another example that the weather over the last couple of months has brought to mind is the toughness and resilience of grass. Just the normal soft grass that grows in my paddock. Its toughness is not because of its thick skin but its deep roots and its ability to go from dormant to full life in a very short period of time. In February my paddocks were dry and cracked and the grass looked dead. By the middle of march those same paddocks were knee deep in vividly green grass.

So how do we cultivate resilience? One of the ways is mindfulness. When we operate from a mindful perspective, we are fully present; and when we are fully present we don’t become mired in the past or lost in the future.  We are able to respond, not react.

Books we love

The books that support our work in Horsanity, where we gain inspiration and learning and which we think you would find valuable.

Mindfulness is a topic that has been around for quite a while now and there are lots of schools of thought about how it should be approached. Should you immerse yourself in a spiritual practice such as Buddhism, or at least take your instruction from that tradition? Should you enroll in a more secular course and be guided through an intensive course in a group environment? There are plenty on offer to choose from. Should you take the time to immerse yourself in the now with another sentient (horse) being skilled at being present (yes!)?

My personal belief is that if it works for you to achieve what you want to achieve then there are no wrong answers to how you go about finding your way to deeper practice. The problem is that often the barrier to taking such an approach is our over busy minds and lives that convince us we have no time to commit. And that is where books like the following two come in. They guide us through short practices of habit and get us started.

Before we launch into the books though, what do I mean by mindfulness? My thoughts are pretty main stream so this explanation from the University of California works for me.

“Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment.

Mindfulness also involves acceptance, meaning that we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging them—without believing, for instance, that there’s a “right” or “wrong” way to think or feel in a given moment. When we practice mindfulness, our thoughts tune into what we’re sensing in the present moment rather than rehashing the past or imagining the future.”

littel book of mindfulness

The first book is “The Little Book of Mindfulness, Dr Patrizia Collard, 2014”. For a start it is pocket sized. If you want to carry it around with you it slips easily into your bag or pocket and you can take it out if you need a bit of inspiration. After a brief introduction about the history of secular mindfulness practice and what the aims of it are, the books outlines a number of 5 and 10 minute practices for the everyday. The book is also beautifully illustrated, which always helps.

In the section on mindful eating: Food should be savoured for the mind as well as the body.

From the writer Peter Altenberg on a tea ritual: Drinking my tea at 6pm never seems to lose its power over me. Everyday I long for it as intensely as the day before, and when I drink it I lovingly embrace it into my being”

Midfulness practical guide

The second book is “Mindfulness, a Practical Guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World, Mark Williams and Danny Penman, 2011”. The authors come from the same school of thought as Dr Collard, based on the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn so much of the ground covered is the same as in the smaller book but in much more detail. It offers both practice and theory and the copy I have came with a CD of guided meditations which is a real bonus!

From the foreword by Jon Kaat-Zinn: While you are putting yourself into the authors’ hands for guidance, you are also, most importantly, putting yourself very much into your own hands by making the commitment to yourself to actually follow their suggestions, to engage in the various formal and informal practices and habit releasers, and put them to the test by seeing what happens when you begin to pat attention and act with kindness and compassion towards yourself and others, even if it feels a bit artificial at first.

In other words, remember, Mindfulness is a practice and our skill, and thus the benefit, develops as we persevere with that practice. These two books are a great resource in that practice.

Back in the saddle

February  was a month to remember both for the searing temperatures and St Ivans and Carwoola fires that affected many people we know, but also for me a trip in rural India where I discovered the delights of the Indian National Park system, which is quite extensive. Hence no February Newsletter.

March too seems to have just flown by but this time at least we have been engaged in honest labor. With both Public  and Organisational workshops it was a nice blend of emphasis. Of particular pleasure was to run the fifth “ignite Pharmacy Leadership” workshop in Canberra with our friends at Peakgrove. So far we have conducted the workshop three times outside Melbourne, once outside Newcastle and now outside Canberra. Participants fly in from all round Australia and are always highly engaged. If they arrive slightly skeptical, the skepticism soon vanishes as they work with the horses.

Meet the Herd

We have been looking at the new editions at Tashkent but time for a change of pace and a look at one of the more venerable members of the Yaroonga herd.

The big majestic grey mare Ladybird has been instrumental in much deep learning by participants at Yaroonga workshops. As Pam’s first born she holds not just a special place in Pam’s heart, but also in the dynamics of the herd. Very much the matriarch, she has her avid followers and communicates in no uncertain terms. Born during the EI crisis of 2007 (this was a complete lockdown of horse movements in much of QLD and NSW as a result of a rogue infection that escaped Australian Quarantine with potentially devastating effects on the equine industry) she was bred to be a dressage horse and had success in her early career. Some breathing issues combined with a lack of interest on her behalf put an end to her dressage career and instead she has embraced the role of People Whisperer with enthusiasm.

Our Calendar

Workshop 1 See with Fresh Eyes – Getting started 

Thursday April 6th  (Tashkent, Dungog) (limited places still available)

Saturday  April 22nd (Yaroonga, Blandford)

Workshop 2 Deepening

These workshops are no longer scheduled but will be offered “on demand”. They are designed to deepen the practices from both our Getting Started Workshop and one day Custom  Organisational Workshops. If you are interested in doing one please contact us

Save the Date

At the moment these dates are all designated as See with Fresh Eyes – Getting Started. We may change some to be new standalone modules or too a Deepening if requested.

  • April 29th Yaroonga
  • May 8th Yaroonga
  • May 15th Tashkent
  • June 3rd Yaroonga
  • June 10th Tashkent
  • June 23rd Tashkent
  • June 28th Yaroonga

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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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

Chapter 1 Gemma (part 2)

Gemma waits till the others have filed off the bus, then follows them out into the sunshine. At first she is a bit dislocated, not quite able to determine what is different, then realises that she cannot detect the constant hum that seems to surround her in the city, even when in one of the many green spaces where she takes her run. In fact she was not really aware that the hum even existed until now when it isn’t there. Instead she is conscious of how loud the bird calls are, how she can hear the slight rustle of leaves in the almost imperceptible breeze and the scent on the air that is part fresh cut grass but underlayed with something more earthy, more pungent. The others have already moved over to a group of chairs sat under an awning. In a familiar ritual they are helping themselves to coffees and teas, chatting, a bit nervously, and waiting for the introductions to start. Andrew the consultant who runs their Leadership program is talking to Brendon but she cannot see anyone else, or in fact anything else other than a largish enclosed area of grass, a shed and a smaller timber round shaped yard. What are they going to be doing? Not a hike up into those hills surely? Then she notices two women approaching from the shed, just as Andrew does and raises his hand in greeting. The women join them. Good morning Andrew, Brendon. You are a little early, clearly the traffic out of the city was good this morning”.

Andrew turns to the group and introduces the two women. “I know you have all been wondering what today was about but I am not the best one to explain it. I’d like to introduce you to Anna and Lex. I have been working with them and their team for a couple of years and have been excited by the impact their work has had on leaders.”  Lex goes onto explain that their “team” comprises a bunch of horses.  She explains why they are part of the process and that it is not about ability to ride or train the horses, but rather how the horses are an integral part of the process in partnership with the human coaches and the participants. Gemma doesn’t quite get it, she thinks they are somehow crediting the horses with human qualities, anthropomorphising them or something. Expecting Mr Ed to be on the scene, but it’s a lovely day and she is prepared to enjoy the respite from the unrelenting pressure of the workplace.

Anna and Lex are well aware that many of the participants, despite a show of bravado, can be quite intimidated by the large equines. The morning activities start with observational exercises with the group of horses and the group of people separated by a sturdy fence. Gemma is surprised at how quickly they all lose themselves into the activity. The skilful questions of the coaches, Anna and Lex, about what they are observing and feeling and how it relates back to their organisation draws them into spirited discussion. Whilst there is much laughter it is also obvious that there is great insight.

Jelani stands resting one hind leg, watching the group of strange humans. The mornings pattern was familiar. He had been let into the arena with the rest of the small herd and they had explored and settled before being asked to move around by Anna. He made sure he didn’t get too close to Ostara but he’d nipped Khan on the leg to  make him move and then had a mock fight with him rearing and snaking his neck. It was all in good fun and now Kahn stood next to him, head over his wither. Hunter was mutually grooming with Ostara and Spock was stamping at a fly that was annoying him. Cloud was hovering on the edge of his sight. Ostara had chased her off and she was clearly feeling a bit nervous about coming back close. He pricked his ears as Anna approached with halter but relaxed again as she placed it on Ostara and led her away. Ostara was good to have in the observation exercise but as the other horses were a bit hyper wary of her things went much better for the rest of it if she was not part of the activity. The herd was able to relax a bit more without the feisty mare present.

It is now time for a bit of hands on and Lex, after assessing the group called on Brendon to undertake the first task. “I want you to catch and halter the grey mare and bring her over here.” Brendon confidently strides out halter in hand. They have been shown how to put it on and practiced with Hunter, so he knows the mechanics of it. He’d enjoyed the feel of the horses hide under his hand and likes the look of the pretty mare, This is going to be easy. Cloud watches him intently and as he gets within a few feet of her she turns her head away and moves off just out of reach. Brendon follows her, moving round so he is not directly behind her in her blind spot, as he has been instructed, but she keeps moving just out of reach. He stops, frustrated. She stops and looks at him. He moves towards her again, this time a bit more slowly but still just as he seems within reach, she moves off, keeping just far enough away. He turns frustrated and steps towards the group and Cloud, behind his back, turns and takes a step towards him. He senses her closer and turns back quickly and she hops away. He sighs. He is frustrated but full of good intention. He embarks again up their little dance but always she remains just outside his grasp. Anna goes out to talk to him but the group cannot hear what is said. Anna stays with him and talks him through and eventually Cloud stands and lowers her head for him to slip on the halter. She follows a beaming Brendon back to the group. Lex then debriefs Brendon and the group on his and their observations. Being very careful to let them explore both what was going through their minds and what they were feeling in their body. Particularly of course Brendon. Gemma volunteered that she felt herself being in Cloud’s shoes. That often Brendon, made her feel a bit insecure so that in meetings she would not volunteer her thoughts. Brendon looked at her quizzically and became thoughtful but she was not sure if he was thinking about her reactions to him, or his effect on her.

A few more of the team worked through some exercises with Lex and Anna. Sometime the others just observed one person, other times there were activities going on simultaneously. Gemma was content to just observe, She was feeling just a little in awe of the horses, a bit nervous, so when volunteers were called for she let others step in ahead of her. Once she went to volunteer but as another team member raised their hand she put hers down. Plenty of time, she would wait her turn. After the next coffee break Anna turned to her and said “Gemma, it is your turn to work with Jelani” “Oh, can I work with Cloud?” Gemma asked. She really felt a bond with the pretty grey mare that she identified so much with during the exercise with Brendon. “She is a lovely mare, said Anna, but I think today it is Jelani you need to work with”. Gemma gulped. She had been watching the big young black gelding. He was not the tallest horse in the group but he was by far the most imposing. She admired him greatly but found him a bit intimidating. She remembered him wondering off to find a patch of grass quite oblivious to the person holding his lead rope, ineffectually trying to get him to follow them over to the group of people. Anna passed her the lead and Gemma stood trying to calm her nerves. Jelani turns to look at her and tenses ever so slightly. “Stroke him” says Anna. Gemma puts her hand up tentatively and lightly touches him. His skin shivers and she jumps back half a step. Jelanis’s head goes up and he shuffles on his feet. “A bit firmer, you tickled him like a fly” Says Anna.  This time Gemma just places her hand on his shoulder, leans into it just slightly so she can feel the warmth of his skin. Her heart is racing a little so she just slows her breathing, gradually relaxing and as she does so feels his corresponding relaxation as he lowers his head and cocks a hind leg. They stand like that for a few moments, both just savouring being.

“Come round and stand directly in front of him” says Anna. I want you to stand looking at him at a distance that feels comfortable. Not touching him. Gemma takes up her position and waits for the next instruction.  Jelani takes a step and moves in closer.  Gemma takes half a step back. “Keep the same distance”  says Anna. Gemma takes another half step so she is now the same distance from Jelani’s head as she started. He steps forwards, she steps back and stops, he steps forwards, she steps back. Suddenly she feels the fence against her back, she cannot step back any further. Where can she go? Can she slip under the fence? Go sideways perhaps, bring him round so they go along the fence. While she is thinking about how she can obey the instruction to “Keep the same distance” Jelani takes a step forward and nudges her in the stomach with his nose. She panics. She is pressed up against the fences, she has nowhere to go and she feels she is literally going to be crushed so she throws the rope in his face and yells “Piss off, get out of my face!” Jelani, shocked, jumps back and snorts at her. One minute she was submissively giving way to him and he was just about to use her  to get a really good scratch for his itchy forehead and then out of nowhere she exploded. He didn’t even feel the energy build up till it was too late. Lucky he was just a step ahead of her and already jumping back when she attacked him with the rope! “What happened there?” asks Anna, “What could you have done differently? Where else does this happen. And it hits Gemma that this exactly the pattern she experiences with her team at work. As she feels the pressure building up from the demands on her time she retreats and retreats until she cannot stand it anymore and it explodes. Sometimes it is at her team, which at least buys her some space, though it can be a bit hard after as they walk round her on eggshells but other times it is Jack or the children that suddenly get the tongue lashing after the small infraction that just seems the last straw in the load that has been building all day. And it makes her feel horrible, drained.

Anna takes the rest of the afternoon working with Gemma on firming up with Jelani. About holding her bubble of space by the strength of her will, by early correction. About recognising that he would still test her occasionally to see if she was still of the same mind, but that that was alright. Jelani, like her team will , gets more focussed and comfortable as he learns she will be consistent, that he can do his job, secure in the knowledge she will do hers. As Gemma rides home on the bus she replays the feeling of being in control of herself that she experienced with Jelani and knows that it is feeling she can cultivate back ‘in the real world’ . And she wonders if she get hold of some DVDs of Saddleclub for her daughter! She never knew how much you could learn from horses.

As the sun sets, Jelani chases the last grain around his feed bowl with his top lip, then scrubs the bottom with his tongue, trying to find a few more bits of goodness. It’s been a  good day. His belly is full and nothing ate him.