• Thrive Inc.

How to Be a Great Leader and Manage Stress Effectively

Think of a time that you’ve experienced truly great leadership. What made it so great? Were they assertive, forceful, and dominating, or were they passive, understanding, and supportive? There are many different leadership styles, and a good leader doesn’t always have to lead.

Stress is a sensation experienced by both humans and animals, and there is a continuum of signals that can be used to indicate stress levels. When leading others, it’s important to understand how stress manifests in different people, as well as the effect you have on them as a leader. By focusing on the impact you have, you’ll be able to lead people more effectively and get the most out of yourself and your employees.

Tune in this week where we’ll discuss why it’s more important than ever to pay attention to your internal state and why doing so can enable you to become a better leader. We’ll discuss different leadership styles and how they affect stress levels in others, and how you can transform stress into enjoyment and feel fulfilled by your work!

If you want to learn how to deal with conflict more effectively, as always, we are both available for individual one on one and couples coaching. For the next couple of months, we are also offering free virtual training to organizations. Our goal is to support you, your team, and your business both at work and at home during this pandemic. Get in touch with us to find out more!

If you enjoyed the show, please share the podcast with your family and friends, or post a five-star review on iTunes. Rating and reviewing the show helps spread the word, which means less friction and suffering for everyone, and who doesn’t want that?

Listen on Apple Podcast | Stitcher | Spotify

Learn More:

  • A key question to ask yourself when analyzing your own leadership.

  • The ways stress manifests itself in both horses and humans.

  • How to be aware of the impact you’re having on others while being mindful of your own emotions.

  • Why it’s important to create space when you’re leading somebody who is stressed.

  • How to recognize if you’re in fight, flight, or freeze mode.

  • The importance of creating enjoyment for yourself each day.

  • How to use awareness to become a better leader.


  • If you want to learn how to deal with conflict more effectively, we are both available for individual one on one and couples coaching. For the next couple of months, we are also offering free virtual training to organizations. Our goal is to support you, your team, and your business both at work and at home during this pandemic. Get in touch with us to find out more!

  • Email us on thrive@thriveinc.com

  • Taming Wild by Elsa Sinclair

Full Transcript:

CrisMarie: Welcome to The Beauty of Conflict, a podcast about how to deal with conflict at work, at home and everywhere else in your life. Hi, I'm CrisMarie.

Susan: And I'm Susan. We run a company called Thrive, and we specialize in conflict resolution, communication and building strong, thriving teams and relationships. Conflict shows up in our lives in so many ways. Most people, unfortunately, are not very good at handling conflict. Most people have never been taught the right tools for dealing with conflict, and then it leads to unnecessary friction, arguments, passive aggressive emails, tears, hurtful comments, stuck-ness, all kinds of things we don't want. We're on a mission to change all of that.

CrisMarie: We've spent the last 20 years teaching our clients how to handle conflict in a whole new way. We're here to show you that conflict doesn't have to be scary and overwhelming. With the right tools, you can turn a moment of conflict into a moment of reinvention. Conflict can pave the way into a beautiful new system at work, a new way of leading your team, a new way of parenting, a new chapter of your marriage where you feel more connected than ever before. Conflict can lead to beautiful things.

Today we have a different kind of podcast. Susan and I are here and we are going to talk about leadership. We’re going to talk about the stress of leadership and actually different styles and how to transform stress into enjoyment, which is really different. We’re going to talk about it related to horses and we’re going to talk about it related to people.

Susan: Okay. So this all came about because I recently did a workshop with Elsa Sinclair who is known for her documentary called Taming Wild where she worked with a wild mustang without any ropes, called freedom training, and got the horse to the point where she could ride on this horse. I was at this workshop at the invitation of Stillwater Horse Whispers Ranch where I work. And most of the people attending were horse owners, and I was not. But I was fascinated by the two days that I got to spend with her.

And so much of it was appliable to what I believe about leadership and the work that I’ve done with people and horses in leadership.

So I want to start off by saying that we want this to be interactive. So I am inviting CrisMarie at various times because I have no doubt she’s quite capable at taking control of this podcast. And I’m sure there will be times where I will be saying something that she doesn’t agree with or she’ll say something that I don’t agree with.

And we actually wanted to have this be sort of an open dialog because I’m digesting these things I learned into my system. This is a subject matter she knows a lot about, stress and kind of the science behind stress and how it is in the nervous system and all sorts of things. So we actually are excited about making this like a real time conversation.

CrisMarie: And just a little bit of background, Elsa Sinclair is from Seattle and Andrew Green brought her out here, sponsored her to come out. And she does things like trains the Seattle police horses, no?

Susan: I don’t know anything. I don’t know where you got that. No. She’s done a series of documentaries and she does work with all sorts of different types of horses. And she does what’s called freedom training, so it’s without any ropes, nothing. It’s different than natural horsemanship even. And she would say herself it is the slowest style of getting a horse into relationship and into the situation you could possibly deal with.

CrisMarie: And she is very focused on the horses’ enjoyment, and that’s very different than the work you do with your Equus leadership work, tell me where that’s different.

Susan: I love it when the horse enjoys it. But mostly I am focused on the fact that I think the horses are giving really great feedback to the leader who I am coaching, the two-legged person who’s out there and helping support them and getting more embodiment and clarity, in giving and suggesting movements. Now, when I work with clients sometimes they do have a long line or something, but it’s not attached to the horse or any of that. So there’s some very similar things.

CrisMarie: And just to give you a mark in time, we are in July 2020, so this is post Covid, but still…

Susan: Apparently post, let’s just be clear.

CrisMarie: Yeah, I know, our numbers are skyrocketing, however, working with the horses is done outside, you can do socially distancing, she wore a mask so I just want to give you that picture just so you know.

Susan: So you know that we are doing all the things we need to be doing.

CrisMarie: Yeah, and don’t come to Montana because our numbers are rocketing, okay.

Susan: So let’s start off by a simple thing, defining leadership. And I love this because she had such a simple definition, which she assumed we were going to be surprised by. Not me, I loved it, it was basically leadership is when one person makes a decision and someone follows it.

CrisMarie: Pretty basic.

Susan: It’s pretty simple. Now, any of you out there who are leaders also know that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

CrisMarie: Well, and I think just even thinking about when you take a leadership role. How do people follow you? Often what happens, and I can be this way is I can be very dominating and insisting. I can use control, speed, force to get people to follow me, so I’m using my role, my power. Susan is nodding her head. It can even go so far as to scare or intimidate or shame people into doing things into, “Why haven’t you got that done? My gosh.”

Susan: We talk about this in couples. There is the dominant style in someone within a couple who is clearly exerting overt measures of force. And then there’s the passive person who is actually doing a lot of things that passive aggressive, well, it might be the word for it, which are under the table which are equally designed to control.

CrisMarie: Yes, both are designed to control. Exactly.

Susan: Yes. And now, the thing that’s interesting, so if you bring a horse into this equation you cannot push a horse around. And yet in the way that we historically have trained and kind of domesticated horses, one would say it’s been a sort of a brutal process.

CrisMarie: Well, it’s even called breaking the horse, right?

Susan: Yes. And now that has changed. There is a lot more things like natural horsemanship, things like that. There’s still this continuum where it is about control, dominating, insisting, that’s more the style that is used with horses than what Elsa talks about is this idea of passive leadership and supportive leadership. And it’s all designed to get you to assertive leadership. And assertive meaning, it’s an interesting concept she has about leadership which I love.

You have a great relationship with your horse. It’s not that you’re always leading. You are actually very clear about the relational aspect of that going back and forth.

CrisMarie: I would think that it would be not good if the horse was leading. I wasn’t being respected if the horse was leading.

Susan: Yeah, I think there’s a lot of horse people that think that too, but the idea being, so I love this concept too, because she talked about, so if you think of leadership is about someone who is making decisions that people follow. So you want the person who’s leading to be emotionally stable and making good sound decisions.

So there are always times in any given relationship, like think of us, where I am more emotionally stable. So maybe I should be making more of the decisions. And times where you are more emotionally stable, and would be good to make a decision. The same is true when you’re riding a horse.

CrisMarie: I have to say, so there’s the riding the horse, there’s you and me and then there is just me inside of me. I have a part of me, especially on Monday mornings that can get quite driven and dominating and insisting. And it’s probably not a good idea for me to be making decisions from that part of me.

Susan: I would agree.

CrisMarie: It’s not very emotionally stable.

Susan: But however, it’s not that you are in a place on Monday morning, let’s just say, where you’re not as emotionally stable. If I decided, okay, I’m taking over the lead. That is me coming and insisting on being the leader, likely not going to have much effect on you because you are already in a state of…

CrisMarie: Probably fight.

Susan: You’re feeling intolerant, you’re uncomfortable, your stress level’s high. And you’ve probably gone into fight, flight or freeze. In that moment I’d go with fight myself too. And the idea is that that’s not a good time to apply more dominant leadership and take over. So what might be helpful and often if I can somehow come into play where we have enough of a relationship where maybe I could get – we’ve talked a lot about fight, flight and freeze.

And when she was talking about this in terms of the horses she said, “They’re always on some form of the stress curve,” as are we, between intolerant of whatever’s going on.

CrisMarie: Not good.

Susan: That’s very stressed, tolerant, still stressed but not, you know, acceptable levels of stress, which means they’re going to be a lot more compliant and willing and accepting the assertive leadership. And enjoyment, that’s sort of the range of stress in a horse’s life according to Elsa.

CrisMarie: And in a human’s life too, yeah.

Susan: Yeah, and I agree, and in our life. And so Monday mornings you are in intolerant. So within that range of intolerance when stress is that high we usually go through another curve of fight, flight or freeze. And the idea being that that’s kind of like a reactive pattern, when we are so stressed out. You talked a lot about this in the high end of that curve, that we go into reaction, which is a form of separation from ourselves really.

CrisMarie: And from our resources, from other people, for sure.

Susan: And the idea being that there is an opposite to that. And she introduced it with the horses as the opposite of freeze is thinking. And this was kind of fun to actually see the horses, like they’re frozen, they are eating the same things, they’re moving but it’s very – you could see it.

CrisMarie: Is that when they’re frozen or thinking?

Susan: That’s when they’re frozen. But you want to get them to where they’re – because with horses they can…

CrisMarie: Yeah, I think actually back up for a little bit because I think it will help our listeners. Listeners, I think it will help you, if you actually paint the picture of how you are just having a session with the horse. And then we’ll tie these concepts in.

Susan: Okay. Now, you need to understand two things as I’m doing this. I am not an experienced horseman. I have a lot of experience with horses, but that’s not been my study.

CrisMarie: Yeah, you study people.

Susan: I study people. But I have really begun to pick up because I’m working with horses a lot. They’re in their body, so you’re seeing what’s registering in them usually through physical movement and things like that.

CrisMarie: They’re not trying to hide what’s going on.

Susan: They’re not trying to, no, not at all.

CrisMarie: They’re not pretending, “I’m not doing that...”

Susan: Yes, they’re very clear. And so that can be really wonderful, especially if you start to recognize those signs.

CrisMarie: Like what?

Susan: Okay, so when horses are engaged in listening, you’ll often see their ears move. So they’ll lock on to whatever they’re hearing in the environment. And if they hear you coming up from a very long ways away, you become potentially the leader or in relationship with that horse from a long ways away. And if you pay attention to that you can start to read, are they – if they go into more of a freeze, maybe their ears go up and they’re just rigid.

CrisMarie: Straight.

Susan: Or you’ve got to look out, if their ears go straight back, you don’t want that.

CrisMarie: Because that’s a fight.

Susan: Yeah, but you want – let’s say their ears are just kind of moving, but they may lock on to something, maybe in our case we were out in the pastures so they were loving the grass.

CrisMarie: So their head’s down.

Susan: And they’re just chowing down on the grass, but sometimes their head would hardly move. And that was a sign that they might be more in freeze. And you want that movement.

CrisMarie: So they’re in an intolerable stress state and they’re in a frozen version of that?

Susan: Well, in this case because of the grass, it might have even been tolerable because they could keep eating grass. But it was more of a freeze than it was anything else. And you want to get them thinking, so the way you might do that is start to notice if you came closer, do they pay attention or do they move away? So you’re always watching for what’s the movement pattern that happens next. And you’re not trying to force any movement, you’re just trying to observe.

So if I pay close attention and I notice okay, their ears are solidly on me and they are interested, they even may look up and engage, they’re in more of a thinking mode. They’re less; they’re not in that intolerant state.

CrisMarie: So it’s like you’re really focusing on the impact you are having basically, and reading the cues, which is really good leadership. Just so you know, listeners, that’s a really good leadership development skill to notice the impact, because usually we don’t, we’re just kind of so in our own world.

Susan: You bring up an interesting point, because a lot of times, yes, notice the impact, but don’t get so focused on the impact that you actually stop paying attention to your own emotional curve. And noticing am I so focused over there that I don’t notice my own when I get stressed, when I’m uncomfortable, when I’ve gone into override.

CrisMarie: And that often can happen when we work with people, oh my gosh, the horse doesn’t like me or I’ve done something wrong. Do you notice these phrases, folks, things that you say even at work? I’ve done something wrong. They don’t like me. I’m going to get them upset.