Getting to Disaster Faster


How many young girls dream of owning a horse? It is that odd place between pink and nice and reaching the dream of who you can be.

Nice quickly becomes a measurable word with horses. A friend described her experience teaching riding and the challenge of connecting words to action. When encouraged to speed ponies up to a trot, instead of pumping legs, elbows would flap wildly. The more the girls were told to kick with their heels the more determined elbow movement would become.

Flapping elbows do little to move a pony forward, so the girls were given something a little more tangible, something they could see so “Ride with your thumbs up” became the mantra. Focusing on their thumbs stopped the elbows from moving but as six year olds tend to do, one solution created another problem. The riders would focus on their thumbs to the exclusion of all else. The image she paints is one of bumper cars bouncing precariously of each other towards a cliff rather than haute ecole.

As an ex-project manager I can espouse the benefits and failings of a plan. Yes, it can align us to a common goal, but when the plan is executed to the exclusion of all else, it’s sort of like watching your thumbs as you update your plan to disaster. You can be the maverick who champions the plan, gets things moving or one who lives by the plan, force fitting relationships into the cells on the spreadsheet, both can leave a trail of debris in your wake.

Somewhere in between is where the leadership role of the PM lies. While either might lead to the successful completion of a project it does little for the concept of the team. It took many years for me to truly understood the difference between managing a project and leading one. I can say with confidence the relationships and people I lead fared far better than those I managed.

Looking at our own behaviours helps us understand how we might be connecting thoughts to actions. Is what we believe we are doing and saying, what others are actually seeing and feeling? Until I became aware of my own actions on others I expect you could say my successful programs left a trail of debris. Yes we hit scope, schedule and budget brilliantly, I was resolute in that goal I saw only what was in front of me. It was a horse that taught me that was only part of the picture.

Relationship, communication and commitment were concepts I knew, I just had to learn what they looked like. Understanding self is often the first leadership concepts taught, without that understanding others is near impossible. Horsemanship taught me about about me and become the foundation of my leadership awareness – from there I was able to learn, understand and encourage others through the programs I lead.

Over the years I’ve had the great opportunity to view many teams execute The Natural Leader programs. What is truly remarkable is how when in a participant tries to manage a horse everything becomes more challenging but if and when they are able to let go of the concept of control they experience the magic of dancing with the horse. People become aware of the behaviours that make a difference giving them something they can focus on that will lead to a successful outcome.

You may also like