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Learning From Horses - Are You Clear?



There are so many lessons leaders can learn by working with horses.

Horses have exceptional emotional intelligence (EQ), making horses great mirrors for a leader’s ability to be congruent. Read Horses as Mentors for Congruent Leadership for more on congruent leadership.

They are also great mirrors for a leader’s clarity, which is what today’s article is about.

When leaders are congruent and clear, their ability to influence those around them skyrockets.

The Herding Experience

Using a simple herding experience with a leader and a horse proves quite a profound reflection of a leader’s clarity.

The set-up: There’s a horse and a leader in an arena with various obstacles to navigate. (Sound familiar? Almost any business involves people, a lofty goal, and various obstacles to move through.)

The horse is free to comply or not, meaning there’s no halter for control, or paycheck for incentive. The only visible tool the leader has is a long line hanging in their hands as a mode of communication.

As a result, the leader is going to get immediate feedback from the horse on his or her clarity.

Narrow or Wide Focus

It’s the perfect opportunity for a leader to begin to appreciate the difference between narrow and wide focus, as well as, the non-verbal cues they are sending that may, or may not, be interrupting clear communication.

I have learned in my own experiences with this exercise that I tend to quickly go to narrow focus. I make a decision to move the horse through a particular obstacle and if my plan works great. However, if the horse doesn’t play the way I anticipate, I can easily get caught up in a power struggle with the horse. I keep going after the same obstacle and applying more pressure.

I am learning that what helps me lead more effectively is stepping back and taking a wider focus. Often with a wider focus, I pick up on the cues from the horse. Some horses prefer very little movement of the long line, others will provide signals to which areas of the arena are more interesting, and therefore, may provide an easier path to navigate.

Also, when I am in a place of wider focus I am more likely to notice my own energy. Am I nervous, tight, or anxious about certain obstacles? (This is being communicated to the horse no matter how well I think I am covering it up, again my leadership congruence.)

Tactical or Strategic

In business these same principals apply. It is easy to get caught in the tactical, fire fighting, aspects of day-to-day business. In that narrow tactical mode, often the wider strategic direction gets lost.

It is also possible leaders can err in the opposite direction, staying in a wider strategic focus, and miss providing enough detail about the day-to-day narrow tactical direction.

Simple Questions

We encourage leaders to use some simple questions as a way of moving from a wider focus down to a very narrow focus. The questions can be applied to an organization overall or a specific project.

Wide Focus

  • Why do we exist? (our purpose)

  • How will we succeed?

  • How will behave or interact?

Narrow Focus

  • What’s most important now?

  • Who does what?

  • What needs to get done, by when?

These questions provide a simple structure for ensuring clarity. Too often leaders and teams get off to a great start by having a road map that outlines the answers to these questions, but then they don’t regularly check in. For the team, we suggest the following check-in frequency the different areas:

  • Monthly Check-in: Wide Focus Areas

  • Weekly Check-in: Narrow Focus Areas

Key To Success

The key to success is when a leader can maintain both a wide and narrow focus, toggling as the situation and team needs.

Your people, just like horses, are likely giving you cues and feedback as too how effective you are at moving between wide and narrow focus.


CrisMarie Campbell and Susan Clarke

Coaches, Business Consultants, Speakers and Authors of The Beauty of Conflict

CrisMarie and Susan work leaders and teams, couples in business, and professional women.

They help turnaround dysfunctional teams into high performing, cohesive teams who trust each other, deal with differences directly, and have clarity and alignment on their business strategy so they create great results.

Check out their website: www.thriveinc.com. Connect with CrisMarie and Susan on LinkedIn. Watch their TEDx Talk: Conflict – Use It, Don’t Defuse It! Find your copy of The Beauty of Conflict: Harnessing Your Team's Competitive Advantage here.



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