Mindful Humans

A powerful catalyst for leadership transformation: the horse!

THIS ARTICLE WAS PUBLISHED ON REVUE GESTION WEBSITE.

It was co-authored with Anouk Lorie, founder, trainer, facilitator, and certified EFLC and E3A coach, Wasabi Coaching

Minfulhumans_Posts
Leadership research draws inspiration from analyzing the behavior and characteristics of great leaders to offer managers ways of being and acting. However, given the radical transformation of workplaces and the arrival of new generations of employees, it becomes urgent to explore new models that are both innovative and effective.

An increasing number of professionals are seriously looking into the remarkable qualities horses possess to assist people in learning about sustainable leadership. Collaborative leadership, authentic communication, clarity and agility in roles, adaptability, and resource conservation are some of the key concepts that horses help us better understand when we interact with them.

For instance, the International Institute for Management Development in Lausanne, Switzerland, HEC Paris in France, and Mannheim Business School in Germany incorporate horse-interaction training modules in their leadership development and Executive MBA (EMBA) programs. Similarly, companies like Google, Coca-Cola, Danone, Deloitte, Orange, and L’Oréal offer their managers unique training sessions involving interactions with horses to transform their leadership.

This approach might seem surprising at first glance but makes sense upon reflection. It is reminiscent of biomimicry, a well-known concept among engineers, which proposes studying nature and drawing inspiration from it to find innovative solutions to the challenges we face. Examples include airplane coatings inspired by shark skin, efficient air conditioning systems in buildings modeled after termite mounds, and Velcro, developed through the observation of burrs.

Horses are fascinating creatures with legendary strength and great elegance, captivating humans for centuries. In the wild, they have survived and thrived for millions of years in potentially hostile, changing, uncertain environments with limited resources, where numerous species and several predators coexist. They gather in herds, according to a defined hierarchy and specific roles, based on collaborative leadership, to ensure the group’s prosperity and the survival of each individual. This context is quite similar to that of our companies!

Horses inspire learning at two levels of analysis. The first: from an organizational viewpoint, as they have adopted winning strategies for survival and evolution for millennia. The second: on a personal level. Indeed, as prey animals, horses exhibit both an extremely high sensitivity to everything happening in their environment and exceptional emotional intelligence. These two characteristics are essential both to their survival and their contribution to the group and are implemented in their interactions with humans. Horses thus offer us the opportunity to experience our leadership beyond rational arguments and eloquent speeches.

 

Six Winning Strategies Inspired by Herd Life

Within wild horse herds, six winning strategies can be observed serving the common mission of these animals (to survive and prosper). These approaches inspire the management of our organizations:

  1. Simplicity and clarity of organization: Within a herd, the hierarchy is precise and recognized, and roles are clearly defined, though they are agile. For example, it has been observed that the alpha mare is responsible for leading the herd to pastures, while the alpha stallion is in charge of the herd’s safety; a simple decision-making process that allows for quick responses.

  2. Diversity: Each member of the herd contributes their unique talents to the group’s sustainability. The different personalities, the variety of ages, and the importance of both females and males are all essential factors for this sustainability.

  3. Adaptability: The changing environment in which the herd evolves helps develop the horses’ ability to adapt physically, mentally, emotionally, and even in terms of roles.

  4. Communication: Despite lacking speech, horses communicate in a clear, direct, and authentic way. Information transmission is constant because it is essential for the herd’s survival: where to feed, how to warn others of a danger, etc.

  5. Collaboration: It is at the heart of the herd’s success, both among its members and in harmony with the ecosystem.

  6. Preservation of resources and energy: The herd is nomadic and only uses its resources – as well as those around it – when necessary, without excess. It prioritizes a state of comfort and homeostasis. Interestingly, one of the key elements often forgotten in our companies is precisely the conservation of energy. In horses, the main leader constantly ensures that the herd does not exhaust itself. The goal here is to preserve energy for situations requiring a quick response, such as the attack of a predator. The rest of the time, the leader ensures that the herd lives in a state of comfort, relaxation, joy, and prosperity.

And you, do you apply these strategies in your organization?

 

  • How do you ensure that your company’s mission is carried by each team member?
  • To what extent are roles and responsibilities both clear, adaptable, and agile?
  • What value do you place on the diversity of talents, genders, cultures, and skills to achieve your goals?
  • How do you assess the quality of your communications?
  • Does your company promote collaboration… or competition? How much attention do you pay to conserving energy to support long-term efforts?
  • What benefits could you reap, individually and collectively, by including or developing some of these strategies?

 

Develop your individual and collective leadership

Leadership training based on interactions with horses is neither a playful horseback ride nor an equestrian lesson. Indeed, guided by an expert in learning and coaching through horses, you will observe the herd dynamics; this could trigger profound awareness regarding your leadership. During the interactions, you will then have the unique opportunity to transform your individual or team leadership.

Imagine standing in front of this imposing animal weighing over 1,000 pounds. A totally free horse, observing you, somewhat wary.

You are challenged to lead it freely (without riding it, touching it, or using a leash or carrot!) from point A to point B in the arena. You interact with it without resorting to force or subjugation. You must establish contact with the horse, create a bond of trust, and encourage mutual collaboration rather than coerce the animal into action.

This is a truly unique leadership exercise!

Indeed, this is about leadership. Let’s first recall the definition of this concept. Leadership is the process of influence that enables a person to obtain from others that they invest their efforts and skills to achieve common goals. Exercising your influence over these magnificent and imposing animals will require tapping into your personal or collective resources, rather than relying on your technical skills and rational arguments.

Thus:

 

  • If you are too dominant or if you pay no attention to the horse’s needs, as well as its emotions, it will avoid you.
  • If you lack confidence in yourself or if you are not clear in your communications, then the horse will lose interest in you and move on.
  • If you do not trust the horse or if you do not give it a clear vision or direction of where you want to go, then it will stop.

 

Indeed, collaboration will only be established – and you will then be able to guide the horse – if all the elements of authentic, collaborative, agile, conscious, and courageous leadership are present.

The horse reacts in milliseconds to your thoughts, intentions, and emotions, offering you precise and sincere feedback through its non-verbal language. It is in this instantaneous reaction – without any judgment or bias – offered by the horse that lies the catalyst for transforming your leadership, as you will want to succeed in this challenge. And you will have to transform to achieve it.

This “immediate feedback” is not influenced by political correctness, corporate hierarchy, or the perceptions of a human trainer. It is authentic, in the present moment, and allows participants to better understand things, feel them, visualize them, learn them, and transform them, in addition to mastering the general skills – the famous soft skills – required to be a good leader.

The parallels are numerous between the qualities you will need to influence the horse and those you must rely on to convince your colleagues to follow you, beyond rational arguments. For example:

 

  • To what extent do you demonstrate emotional intelligence when exercising your leadership?
  • How much attention do you pay to the trust you inspire in others?
  • How much confidence do you have in yourself?
  • What is the quality of your presence when you interact with others?
  • To what extent do you demonstrate courage?

 

These are just some of the questions, and more, that you will face… and, thanks to your coaches – equine and human –, for which you will find answers.

Online or in-class training is gradually reaching its limits. Could experiencing leadership learning or team cohesion with horses finally give you the effective tool you’ve been looking for so long? What if the horse, an ancestral animal, became both an inspiring figure and an accomplice for innovatively transforming individual and collective leadership within your company?

Notes: For further exploration, see references provided in the original text, including links to programs that incorporate horse-assisted learning, as well as additional reading on biomimicry and leadership styles.

 

Notes

[1] https://www.imd.org/sl/program/women-leadership-program-content-learning/

[2] https://equicoaching-events.com/seminaire-equicoaching-hec-paris-2021/ ; https://www.hec.edu/en/news-room/let-horse-lead-you-better-management

[3] https://www.mannheim-business-school.com/en/mba-master-and-courses/mannheim-series-for-executives/workshop-leading-teams-effectively-with-the-power-of-horse-assisted-coaching/

[4] Pour aller plus loin : Benyus, J., Biomimétisme : quand la nature inspire des innovations durables, Rue de l’échiquier (Paris), 2017, 408 pages, et The Biomimicry Institute (https://biomimicry.org/).

[5] Serot Almeras, H., et Bresciani, S., «Equine Facilitated Learning for Enhancing Leadership and Communication Skills»Academy of Management Proceedings, volume 2021, n° 1, juillet 2021.

[6] Il existe de nombreuses références, dont : Nanjundeswaraswamy, T. S., et Swamy, D. R., «Leadership styles», Advances in Management, volume 7, no 2, février 2014, p. 57-62.

[7] Bismuth, D., «Quand l’entreprise est un loup pour le cheval» (article en ligne), Harvard Business Review France, 19 juillet 2017 (https://www.hbrfrance.fr/chroniques-experts/2017/07/16305-lentreprise-loup-cheval/).

Receive valuable advice.

Subscribe to our newsletter and regularly receive valuable tips, inspiring articles, and useful resources directly in your inbox.

We are committed to sharing only high-quality content to enrich your leadership journey. Sign up now!

Please enable JavaScript in your browser to complete this form.
Name
E-mail

Receive valuable advice.

Subscribe to our newsletter and regularly receive valuable tips, inspiring articles, and useful resources directly in your inbox.

We are committed to sharing only high-quality content to enrich your leadership journey. Sign up now!

Please enable JavaScript in your browser to complete this form.
Name
E-mail

You may also like…