Janice Webster is Senior Vice President Human Resources at Solium. For over twenty years she has been enabling high-performing organizations to excel. She admits these past three years have changed her through what she has learned from the two horses she and her husband now own. In this interview Janice explores what horses have taught her about herself, life and work. You could say it has been a fast ride!
Murray is a storyteller. A skill he no doubt employed over his thirty year career in the power line industry. “I would have to say storytelling comes from my father he answered most questions with a story. You had to find the answer in the story, if you didn’t you probably weren’t ready or needing the answer anyhow.”
I’ve heard many a tale this past year and we have covered many topics, most which end back at the importance of reading a horse. We share the goal of a bridle horse, Murray just happens to be a lot further along.
Facilitators Guide Creating Exceptional Leaders through Learning with Horses – one or two day program outline.
Creating Exceptional Leaders through Learning with Horses. The Facilitator’s Guide reflects our learnings from four years of programs partnering the concepts from The Leadership Challenge® with activities with horses. Presented at The Leadership Challenge Forum in Chicago August 2009.
eBook – $79.95 Cdn.
I am not one for making New Years Resolutions, mostly because what I hear seem like empty promises. The yoga studio is full in January something I know will change in the coming weeks.
Each ride, every program I am looking to fine tune one of my actions as I recognize and better understand my own behaviours. So rather than a resolution, this is more of a confessional.
Why is it so difficult to just listen?
It may be a bit easier to understand after watching Micheal Sikorsky‘s Walrus Talk on Innovation. Early in the history of documentation writing was one long script with breaks only appearing at the edge of the page. With nothing but time capturing knowledge through writing was the domain of Monks and it stayed that way for quite a few years. Though as more learned to read and write spaces began to appear to make the messages more meaningful and easier to understand.At least that is how Sikorsky, founder of Robot’sNPencils, introduces the invention of ‘The Space’.
I had to trust her, I was reaching to pick up a back foot. It had taken the better part of a year to get to this point and if actions reflect thoughts, trust had to be visible in everything I did. I had to trust me.
Pheobe joined the herd when a divorce required the assets be divided. Her trip to the meat pen was intercepted by a friend who put out a call for anyone willing to take on mares in foal. My offer to take a couple was clearly emotional as the logic of taking on four more horses typically requires planning.
Therapy is not something that I do with The Natural Leader programs, so when I encounter someone who has been traumatized with horses I do not have the degree to back me up. I can only go with what I see. Leadership is about demonstrated behaviour and a conversation I am quite comfortable with, so behaviour is where my focus lies.
Fear can be a great motivator, a tool for learning or it can paralyze us. What I hope for those who are fearful is that they can recognize how fear, or the story, that is holding them back from achieving more in their career or life.
Too afraid to even enter the arena, a participant of a recent program had been watching her peers go through a series of activities with the horses. Before heading up for lunch, I asked if she would be willing to connect with a horse together. I was searching for the invitation she would be comfortable with. Even with that offer, she was hesitant, in fact she flat out refused.
She had shared her story of trauma by horses with the Wranglers and was keen to let me in on the details. I expect she had also told everyone else on her team. Repeating the story not only re-traumatized her, but words of acknowledgement from others appeared to reconfirm her fear.
You can’t tell someone “Don’t be afraid”, so I was looking for the question that would help her step out of her comfort zone. What she had seen – the demonstrated behaviours or facts, rather than what she had believed to be true – the story. When she admitted she had seen nothing that confirmed her fear, she offered that coming into the arena with “one” horse might be okay.
In The Natural Leader programs “Everything is an invitation. An Invitation can be accepted, modified or declined.” I was thrilled she was willing to take that step. I had picked Big Jim. Though large in stature Big Jim is the image of calm and quiet. Still concerned, the introduction was short but she acknowledged she could be beside a horse. She left the arena one big step closer to change.
That afternoon, she volunteered to be the observer. Perhaps it was sharing those observations with her team that helped her believe she was ready to participate. Her smile and the change in her body language that followed suggested the relief that came with the belief she could do this, as her confidence grew so too did her participation.
She needed others to see and believe what she had believed impossible. Leaders are given that responsibility all the time, opening the door to allow someone to step through and experience the change they are seeking.
Do people really understand what you are saying? The question came to mind while watching a recent Buck Brannaman clinic.
Since the release of the movie BUCK, people have flocked to his clinics. Perhaps drawn by fame, the romantic image of the cowboy or simply because he is a fabulous horseman. An entertainer as well Buck speaks in metaphor and through stories of his own experience. The classes are large so he suggests “if you behave like an alcoholic you will always think I am talking about you”. Hoping the magic will rub off, people and horses “waller” around the arena for three to four days, often never to return.
For a number of years I have made the drive to Montana to ride with Buck. This year friend, and co-facilitator in The Natural Leader programs, Kristen Cumming came along. Enjoying a cold beer after a long hot day in the arena, a brilliant idea surfaced. Buck needs an interpreter! We laughed at the thought of Kristen, in plain language, doing voice over to what Buck was saying. While it was in good fun, I have to admit the idea has merit.
It was most apparent when he demonstrated a pretty basic maneuver, “With your rein ask your horse to step over with his front feet”, the instruction continues, “open the door for your horse to move through”. Watching people can be painful as their frustration becomes evident as they try harder to do what they don’t understand.
The conversation around “open the door” and the actual meaning of “shift your weight out of the way of the horse’s leg” had me wondering how many people truly understand what their leaders are saying.
All organizations create their own language to set annual goals and objectives, define the quarterly expectations or even the task for the day. Done to aid in the effectiveness and efficiency of communication, just as metaphors do, acronyms replace department names, strategic plans, and programs, meetings are often conducted as if everyone understands the expressions and language. As a leadership consultant, I often find myself asking for the definition so as not to be left behind.
Communication is a common topic in The Natural Leader programs. As people work through an activity with a horse what quickly becomes clear is how much we assume we are communicating when in reality we are possibly only delivering half the message.
Effective communication shows up through the clarity of our intention, actions, emotions and the words we choose, the impact on others shows up in their actions or lack of them. Consider when you have committed to an objective, or idea, and you don’t experience the enthusiasm you were expecting from your team. How do you interpret that? If they had an interpreter, what might they say to you?
People who don’t understand, don’t stay. It is not a reflection of the competency of the leader or their ability, it is simply a communication break down.
All the elements of the activity Buck demonstrated are there. His subtle actions are enough for the horse, but rarely enough for his larger audience, you have to be dedicated and observant. Without seeing the weight shift the metaphor of opening the door has no meaning. A few more specific and concise words would go a long way to more riders understanding how he achieves his results.
If you had an interpreter what words would they choose to complete your thought?
Nancy Lowery, lives and works in Calgary Alberta Canada. Her business The Natural Leader offers powerful leadership training through interactions with horses.
“If you talk to any good horse trainer about how they got to where they are, they’ll admit they’ve made some mistakes along the way. And if they’re worth their salt, they’ll probably tell you that the lessons they learned making those mistakes were invaluable.” Clinton Anderson
We live on the eastern slopes of the Rockies, the point where the foothills turns into the flat lands. With it’s ready made windbreak of poplars, spruce and caragana hedge an old farmstead became our home. I often say there is nothing to block the view–a statement that translates to nothing to stop the wind. The wind can be relentless.
In the still of a spring evening bird song and frogs are the main chorus but as you move toward the herd the steady slap of the tail and stomp of feet means mosquitoes have arrived. After 11 years I realize there is a darn good side to that ever present wind. Between hill and sky, there can be a LOT of water. So when the wind blows it provides that point in the day you can focus and the horse can relax, the wind offers relief.
The Natural Leader programs are designed to provide a different perspective on leading self or others. I have to admit sometimes the questions that come forward catch me off guard, one did just that in a recent session. The individual was wondering what to do when all else appeared to be stacked against them. The first question that came to mind to begin the dialogue was “Is there another way you could look at the problem?”
We often have participants who are looking for a fix, that one idea that will transform their leadership journey. The horses provide that different perspective on how they show up as individuals and the expectations they place on self. If the horses had taught me nothing else, the one learning horses are brilliant at sharing. You can only control and change how you respond and react to see a different outcome.
The same question came to mind as I headed down the road, glad for the reprieve from mosquitos the wind offered. When I could see the benefit the wind offered rather than loath it, I loved it. “It was the question that was needing to be asked but was waiting to be said.”
Not sure why it’s taken me so long to find the upside of the wind. I guess needing to see something from a different perspective is something you never run out of.
In full disclosure, that is not a picture from where I sit, but a view not too far to the west of us.