This interview is a slight deviation from my conversations with leaders about what they have learned from a life with horses. Simply because every once in a while something worth sharing happens in The Natural Leader programs. Aside from the odd trail ride, Steve’s experience with horses is not a whole lot broader than the day he spent with us. What showed up for for Steve that day speaks to the power of leadership learning through horsemanship.
Since the interview Steve Fedorchuk’s career has taken an unplanned trajectory. While his words here reflect his job at the time, they actually are a reflection of Steve.
This is in part our conversation.
NL- Of the day you spent with The Natural Leader the word that stands out for me is Joy. What was about the day that inspired that word?
SF – For me going into that course, maybe it was where I was at in my life, even my job & career. I was coming in with an open mind. Rather than, “how does this help me be a better leader.”. I was viewing the day as an opportunity to be open to whatever learning came my way. For me it (The Natural Leader program) was an experience that was bigger than a skill, or learning or a job. It was an experience that reminded me, life is so much more than a job.
Yet the learning’s also applied to work.
I was engaging, interacting and connecting with a beautiful animal. One that is way bigger than me and quite frankly, probably more in charge of the things. How many people get to experience that? I chose joy because joy is bigger than happiness. It’s deeper, it’s a soul feeling. Joy just seemed like the right word.
NL – I often have people ask what others get out of the time with horses. How would you describe how the day relates to leadership?
(TNL is 1 day of a six week Conversations Program – covering coaching conversations, understanding your / others style, leadership presence)
SF – There is a tonne of value in the whole leadership program. It’s more than being a great leader at work. Each of the components of the program are equally as valuable at home and in non-work relationships. That’s why working with the horse fit so well, it combined all the ideas that apply in all parts of your life.
Joy – transcended things for me. It was a reminder that life is pretty special and precious. Living and being in that moment was such a great life experience. It reminded me that there is a bigger picture that I can lose sight of when I am eyes down in the trenches. I need to remember to poke my head up and see the bigger picture.
Leadership is not about ticking stuff on a list, or managing people or getting certain outcomes, that is two-dimensional. I work with real people, I have to be values based that is three-dimensional. There is an art and skill to connecting. I have to make a personal connection with each and every person – because connection and trust are not a function of time.
Once I connect, I am better able to understand to listen, ask intelligent questions and I am better able to keep an open mind to different outcomes.
When you think about it how many times are we not really listening? Rather just waiting to say what we want to say next, or believe we already have the answer, or know what needs to happen next. We limit ourselves when we do that, because we are not paying attention.
In the current workplace environment we are over stimulated, technology totally dominates us. We have so many things that pull our attention, texting while we’re on phone, writing an email when we should be listening. Personally connecting is almost lost art.
So the day was a great reminder, multi-tasking is not really being present.
Try multi-tasking with a horse! Try walking with a horse while you are working on a laptop or watching a video or talking on the phone and see how quickly you literally get bucked out of the conversation. You need to be present, you need to connect.
It was a great reminder, people aren’t any different. Don’t they deserve that? Don’t I deserve that?
That was the work learning piece but it was a great life experience. It was that moment in time when I connected with the horse and I had a joyful moment and it’s a reminder you can have that every day with every person you interact with. If you are present and you see the big picture on what is important.
When you totally connect with people there is a different level to the conversation, a different level to the outcome.
NL – How do you take that feeling back to work.
SF – I guarantee you it’s a challenge – even though we are very deliberate about being present. That is a requirement in our management meetings to be present. If you have to keep an eye on something, declare that – otherwise the expectation is you are here and contributing it’s respectful. You get more out of it others get more out of it.
Even when you are deliberate it’s hard to do. I can imagine a lot of people will have the experience with the horses and then go back to what they did before.
That’s the society we live in, that’s the challenge.
NL – How do you keep finding those moments?
SF – You have to be intentional about it. It’s a values thing. It is something you have to journey towards.
I look at it this way: “It’s like going for a hike, the endorphins and the great feeling you have when you are out there. You want more of that feeling.”
Ok now do that every day. Commit to it. It’s a challenge
NL – You spoke of how the experience has influenced you – have you noticed how it’s impacted others on your team?
SF – I would say yes and no, because there is a practicality to it. I work with a lot of seasoned, effective, values based leaders every once in a while the experience comes up in conversation and in context so people talk about it (the day with horses) so it has stuck with them. So in that respect yes.
The other piece – No and it’s not a bad thing. I’d say No because if it’s a bigger thing, or deeper than an initial reaction, it’s a deeper layer that you might not see.
It’s more about how that experience shaped or tweaked their trajectory just a little bit. Leadership is the accumulation of tweaks that change how they operate, how they prioritize – values, tasks, conversations. People that are open to and who are seeking have one more experience to help them along their own leadership path.
For me was part of a cumulative set of experiences. It validated some things, refreshed some things, reminded me of others I need to pay attention to. So people around me might not make an association that wow Steve has changed since the program. For me it’s like more gas in the tank so I can keep going.
RayHunt – “Expression is extremely important. The horse has body expression and mental expression. You must learn to read the horse’s expression. The horse has a multitude of actions and reactions. They are all separate and yet inseparable.”
NL – I’ve seen a range of people in the program – some who have been with the organization for 30 years versus someone who has been there for less than 6 months.
Expectations of the day are somewhat different in life, in their career path their current job I’ve seen the horse figure out and deliver what the human needs.
SF – It’s almost like the horse is a better listener than we are. I can have a conversation with a friend and they might not provide any input or feedback but no matter what I said or how they may or may not have responded the fact they were present, you leave feeling validating – the horse is better because they don’t do it with words.
I think I used the word horses are good listeners. Horses are also a mirror – they mirror back to us who we are, you see things you were not aware of or our blind spots that you choose not to see. Horses are good at that.
What is your motive going into the day. You might get someone who goes into the day wanting to show you how great they are with horses, that speaks to life as well. I’m going to show you how great a leader I am and show you my wisdom and intellect. We don’t end up in the conversations we need then.
Totally different people will get what they need out of the experience – you get what you need. Sometimes what you get out is not epiphanies & rainbows but you get what you need. The only common thread is you – it’s what you need right now. You get who you are.
Thank you Steve for your willingness to share how a horse has impacted your leadership journey.
Nancy Lowery has been blogging about her Leadership Learning through Horsemanship Experiences for over ten years. This series began as “One Foot in the Arena” to explore what other leaders in Calgary have learned about their own leadership through their relationships with horses.
To explore how a day with horses can complement your Leadership Training programs Nancy would love to hear from you.