Fear of Flying

YaYas_website_300x225You are buckled in, you notice the flight attendant going through the motions of the safety demonstration. The short delay announcement frustrates you and yet you find yourself gripping the armrest as if the plane relied on this very effort to lift it off the tarmac.

Relax. Statistically you are more likely to get struck down as a pedestrian than die in an airplane.

Our irrational fear of flying was the topic of Michael Enright’s radio interview with Author and First Officer Patrick Smith. Smith suggests the fear is normal and natural, admitting there is something about being thousands of feet above the ground moving at hundreds of miles an hour that generates fear for anyone from passenger to pilot. As inherently unsafe as it may sound, flying has been engineered to be the very opposite.

Enright’s questions clearly reflected his own fear of flying, suggesting Smith’s version of a near miss sound more like a near hit. Smith offers that our fear of flying is more likely the result of an over active imagination, interpreting what we hear from the media rather than one based on facts.Smith dubs this the PEF or Passenger Embellishment Factor. The PEF exaggerates a 20 foot drop in altitude to thousands, a 20 degree bank turns into 60 and a lightening strike becomes a ball of light dancing down the aisle.

PEF easily translates to the Participant Embellishment Factor in The Natural Leader programs. To assess people’s comfort level before entering the arena we always ask. “On a scale of one to ten, one being fearful, ten meaning you might have experience with horses and are quite comfortable with the prospects of the day. What is your comfort level working with a horse?” The number of zero’s and negative numbers we have encountered of late is somewhat unsettling.

What I have noticed, rarely is there a bad experience to go with that fear, the horse simply represents an unknown. So the idea has worked them into such a state they hadn’t slept or were physically ill at the prospect of the day. Their imagination has filled in the blanks and created the “What if” scenarios for this large and powerful animal.

While the work with horses allows people to experience Leadership moments at the threshold of their comfort zone, fear can get in the way of that opportunity. Our goal is to ensure each person is supported through their learning experience in a manner that suits them best. The sessions often give participants a better understanding of when their fears of failing, or falling, are holding them back as leaders.

I have gained a lot of experience on managing fear around horses. You can’t simply tell someone “Don’t be afraid”, however we can provide information that is relevant and immediate, setting a goal that is attainable. So we start with breathing.

When we are fearful we tend hold our breath in anticipation. Our focus of attention is on the future not the present so we are rarely able to respond to the moment. Focusing on breathing helps people remain in the present so they can recognize and assess the physiological response they are experiencing. Once they notice what is happening in their body they are more likely to be able to name it and therefore manage the emotions associated with the feeling.

One reference tool we have used in our programs is The Awareness Wheel, adapted by Jacques & Associates from the work of Miller, Wackman, Nunnally and Saline. The tool helps bring forward a dialogue on what has generated a reaction or an emotion so we might be more thoughtful in our response. Getting participants to focus on their breath helps them become more present to what might be actually happening in the present.

So the next time you find yourself gripping the armrest like everyone’s life depends on it, remember to breathe. Relax your body and your mind so you can actually enjoy the flight.

CBC Radio Interview >>http://www.cbc.ca/player/Radio/The+Sunday+Edition/Segments/ID/2416721253/

Photo: Oliver getting his Ya Ya’s out before I get on!

The 30 Day Tarp Challenge

TarpChallenge300x225A current trend in hot yoga studios is the 30 day challenge. No I have not committed to a yoga challenge, but I did create one of my own. The Thirty Day Tarp Challenge.

Not having experienced anything quite like Gabriel presented, I missed what my horse had been trying to tell me. Stumped as to what to do next, I sought the expertise of others.

The problem becomes who is the right expert? There are a LOT of experts out there with differing opinions on each. The guy I selected has decades of experience starting thousands of colts and having studied with many of the same horsemen I admire. I thought I had found the perfect solution. I also assumed he would be a good teacher.

He got the job done!  I saw a big change in Gabe and our first ride was amazing. In typical cowboy fashion, he is a man of few words so my instruction was “Ride him”. On the surface all appeared well, I believed it would progress from here on in.

While those first rides truly did feel great, once home there was always a slight feeling of what if. In the hands of a very experienced horseman, Gabe had become compliant, but if I was at all tentative he would shut down. The subtle progressed and in a few short rides we were back to where we’d been at before I’d asked for help. There I was on the ground looking at Gabe’s belly, again!

Gabriel had mastered the art of compliance. Had he stayed with the horseman he may well have progressed along the continuum from compliance to engagement, but with me back at the helm progress stalled. Gabe had learned to tolerate things at least until the point where he could no longer. So the moment I created any feeling of doubt, well that was all he needed.

The experience has had me thinking a lot about how we engage consultants to fix problems in the workplace. In our efforts to find a quick solution, get back to doing business and the ever important quest for increased revenue, we hire others to fix a problem. While I know I needed help, what  was more important was what I needed to do once the “new program” was implemented.

That is where mentors and coaches are invaluable. Someone to bounce an idea off of when you are not sure what to do next. I too have found the support I needed and the tarp challenge is one of the tactics to help me through the process of change. I now know the right questions to ask and more importantly how to recognize the precise moment when Gabe shifts from compliance to understanding. The moment of engagement.

We are still at the point that had initially stumped me.  I just better recognize that the process of engagement is not an end result but a continuum. To quote a good friend and horseman Paul Mitchell “30, 60 or 90 days may be great terms in the money market, it means little to a horse.” 

I now know it will simply take as long as it takes, the number of days may simply be a measure. As we near sixty Gabriel is engaging with whatever I ask of him but we are not there yet. Some days it feels like we take a few steps back, but the more I listen to what he is telling me and continue to ask the right questions, we are making great progress. Hard to believe that a tarp would make a horse lighter to ride but that simple challenge is removing the question of doubt in my ability to lead.

The challenge is of course more for me than it is for him. It is about me making the commitment to work through a problem without looking for the quick fix. The benefits have been many our relationship is improving, I better understand where his edges are and how to help him through the hesitation and like the fitness challenge thirty days of yoga may offer, my arms are also a whole lot stronger!

In the Midst of Chaos

crossingtheroad300x225For the past couple of weeks I have been moving the herd onto a neighbours pasture. Leaving horses out to eat 24/7 when the grass is in peak never works out well, so we head over late morning back each evening. The routine is slowly beginning to develop a measure of rhythm.

The grass may be plentiful but the project manager in me appears when time is the scarce resource. Minimizing the number of trips by leading more than one horse seemed to be a sensible way to handle the process. Why take two horses when you can lead three or more?

Separating the herd always causes far more angst than you would think necessary. Without the non-verbal communication that holds them together the whinnying begins, actually, it’s more a deafening scream! To be clear we’re not talking about a long trip down the road, but simply one from our yard across the road onto the neighbours field. The drama doesn’t end when you get a batch of horses into the field but continues until each animal has arrived. The newly separated race around worried for their yet to arrive herd mates, causing even more frenzy among those left behind.

Needless to say the first few trips were more like a gong show than any sort of coordinated effort. It was if each individual had their own agenda: one excited about the adventure was charging ahead, switching sides and spinning around generating excitement and confusion; another seemingly suspect of the pending change would become an anchor a “ya but” for each step of the way and then there was the horse more concerned about how everyone else might impact them still not sure they wanted to be on the trip at all. I was trying to be the leader in the midst of chaos and had to develop a new strategy to stay alive. I needed the herd to respect me.

Horses like routine and any change will cause undue stress. I have often mentioned that when it comes to something new a horse always reverts to the most basic of values, their life. So change triggers the “Will I live or die?” reaction. The initial plan was to move half the herd over, one I soon altered as visions of animals desperate to connect and fences mixing in a bad way came to mind. Moving sixteen horses and one donkey meant more trips in the short term but the field would be grazed down faster ending the whole project sooner.

Control is a measured word with horses. It is impossible to control one upset horse let alone four but you can influence one horse at a time. In the end I don’t believe I saved any time moving more than one horse but once again I learned a lot. What became crystal clear was the bigger the team the more important the individual became. The negative influence each horse can wield when their concerns are not recognised is huge! What in turn impacted everyone was when my level of frustration got the better of me.

I found myself recalling a mantra I had used as a project manager “Slow down to go faster.”, for whenever my energy came up so too did that of the horses around me. With each trip I have improved how I set myself up to execute my responsibilities, in turn I am better able support each horse and adapt to what shows up. Each trip has a better start and as we repeat the routine the horses expectations are now clearer and the walk over is less chaotic. The ever so important action of getting through the gate can now be completed with some semblance of order, each horse waiting their turn to be freed.

I have let go of the expectation this should be easy or faster but recognised that it will take the time it takes. I see each effort as the opportunity to both learn and teach, most importantly that my team can look to me for comfort in the midst of change. It certainly wasn’t simple and it hasn’t been easy but I am pleased with how the team now might look as we cross the road together.