How Owning a Horse Has Made Me a Better Leader

Sun, Dec 2nd, 2012 | Tags: leadership horses mentor strategy communications

Those who know me even a little bit, know that my horse plays a major role in my life. What is interesting is now much owning him has taught me about being a better leader.

Below are several of those lessons I’ve learned that translate directly to business and to life. You may find it hard to identify with me in terms of the horse part, but there are great life insights here that are applicable no matter what.

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Communicate clearly
Horses generally want to please. We have evolved together for more than six thousand years, and horses have come to understand that we can live in equilibrium. Where things get confused is when the person doesn’t give a clear cue to the horse of what he wants. This will unsettle a horse, and can create trust issues. Giving mixed signals will also desensatize a horse to your commands.

As it is with horses, it also is in life. Not communicating clearly, and often enough will lead to confusion, a waste of time and isolation. We are wired to connect, so touch base often and when you do, think about how to say what’s on your mind clearly.

Stay Calm
A lot of people are afraid of horses. They are big creatures and can be skittish. In my experience not enough people have been trained to be around horses. It requires a calm yet confident body language, and a voice that’s authorative yet fair. Horses will look to you in times of trouble, when they aren’t sure of the appropriate action. Panicking will make your horse panick more. Being calm, and purposeful breeds trust, and defuses a stressful situation.

We all have a choice about how we react. As a leader one must learn to address difficult moments with grace and take clear decisive action.
Breathing deeply is significantly under-rated.

Think Long Term
It is impossible to rush building a bond with a horse, likewise for anyone who has ever learned to ride; you know it’s a continuous evolution. It takes time for your body to learn and adopt the right position, and perfecting those seamless transitions takes hours of practise before becoming second nature.

Great accomplishment takes time. One must be prepared to do the work each day in small steps, and yet be aiming toward a future goal. All the hours of practise under saddle, or those long days spent in the office are of no use, unless you know where you want to be. Leaders are able to define their goals, and translate them into daily tasks that inch forward to success.

Leave a Good Impression
There is a saying with horse riding that goes “…you are only as good as your last ride”. Horses have incredible memories and so it’s always important to end your ride on a good note. An inaccurate transition, error or silly moment will stay in the mind of your pony (and yourself), and manifest again at another time. Even if you feel unable to try again and get a perfect result, it is important to end your ride well. Do a much easier move excellently and then stop there.

I see many people in business who let their egos over-shadow their work and personality. A trait I admire in my own mentors over the years has been their humbleness. Their willingness to speak and help employees of all ages, and stages of their career. As a leader think about the impression you are making, is it one people will follow? Think about yourself as a role model, and be aware of how your actions are effecting people.

Get a Mentor
Learning and horses never ends. There is always more you can do, different riding styles to learn, perfecting movements, handling, medical needs (many horse owners end up becoming mini-vets to their creatures due to costs), and so much more.

Getting a mentor is fundamental to your growth. Spending time with someone more experienced, or with different experiences to your own, can really unleash new perspectives, keep momentum going and provide advice in difficult times. One never stops learning, and seeking the expertise of another is critical.

Horses are herd animals. There is a pecking order, and each horse knows where they stand in the herd. When a new horse joins the herd the pecking order is challenged, and it takes a while for things to settle down. Owning a horse is like parenting a teenager, they challenge the status quo (often). If horses don’t trust you as a leader, they believe it becomes their job to lead. And let me tell you it is not that awesome to be bossed around by 1,100 lbs of horse!

Needless to say, people want and need ‘you’ to lead. To show them the way, to make things better. Few really take on the responsibility of leading and then go on to continue to provide great leadership. It requires practice, tenacity and a strong desire. I have seen eight year old girls handling 16 hands high (aka super tall) horses. They are an inspiration. It is not about age, or your experience level. People lead when they choose to lead.

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