How to train managers: lead a horse to water

How to train managers: lead a horse to water

Executives try horse whispering to understand how to deal with staff

David Cohen

Of course you are a brilliant company boss. Everybody says so. You even have an MBA to prove it.

But what would a horse tell you

More than you might want to know perhaps, but possibly as much as an honest team leader needs to hear. it offers executives [the chance] to put their skills to the equestrian test by swapping the briefcase for a bridle, the boardroom for the tackroom, and the corporate hard sell for a picturesque day of heavy horse-whispering.

At the very least the programme also represents some thing of a turnaround on the usual relationship between horses and the country’s businesses which usually show up in droves to sponsor virtually all of the country’s major horse sport events.

In the equestrian world, the similarity between leading horses and humans has long been a commonplace. Bad horse trainers, like bad company leaders, often bully and intimidate horses into doing what they want. Good trainers, on the other hand, persuade the creatures to do what they want of their own free will by convincing the horse that they genuinely know best.

And horses who voluntarily follow instructions because they respect their leader are willing to do much, unlike those who are forced to obey instructions under coercion but become resentful, reluctant and often try to find ways to avoid doing what they are asked.

The same could be said of bullying, tyrannical bosses who order employees around under threat of dire consequences It the staff do not comply – and end up with employees who may do what is required from fear of being abused or fired but will just as likely make ample use of sick leave, quit abruptly or simply make a lucrative sideline out of stealing the office stationery.

Horses, say Ms Sudbury, can teach more about commitment, team work and partnerships than humans often can — and usually all in the course of the day most of the courses run for. The patterns of leaders and followers, dominance and submission, competition and co-operation, they say, bear striking similarities to the way both animal herds and successful workplaces organise themselves.

But there are some distinct and helpful, differences as well. Horses don’t lie to flatter an ineffective boss: if you’re a hopeless leader, they won’t follow. They may even make that point a little loudly too.

“Often the best learning comes from experiencing something original,” explains Ms Sudbury, a London-born journalist whose books-at-bed time accent has been a regular fixture on National Radio since she arrived in New Zealand in 1999. “And what we’ve already found is that this is an original way to build powerful teams, improve leadership skills and take staff out of their comfort zones.

Horses, are unusually sensitive animals, which makes them behave like an emotional mirror to humans. At the same time, they are herd animals who instinctively look for an authoritative leader.

But those seeking to lead them need to do so using natural leadership skills — s59 of the Crimes Act may be a defence for disciplining a child, but it doesn’t help assert authority over these creatures.

Participants are given a series of challenging exercises with their chosen horse. In order to succeed in dealing with them, the human has to learn, quickly, how to inspire the creature to want to work for them and how to control their energy levels so that the horse can begin to trust them.

Participants soon realise, the couple says, the importance of clear communication, how to develop a positive attitude, determination and commitment.

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