carey arnett

Horses are her sanctuary – Carey Arnett

Horses are sanctuary for the President of Arnett & Burgess Pipeliners.

Carey’s story with horses goes back a long way. When she was seven she brought home a riding lesson brochure and announced she wanted to ride. “My grandfather thought he’d start me off with a month of lessons to see if I was really interested. I never let my parents quit.”

Carey was hesitant on the question about how many horses she has “they’re a little like potato chips you can’t have just one.”

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World Champion CEO

World Champion CEO – Terri Holowath

My next conversation is with a World Champion!

Terri Holowath attained the title in 2015, winning every event she and her horse Jade (Red Hot Jade) entered in the National Reined Cow Horse Association Tour (NRCHA). Not bad for a part-time rider in the non-pro two rein working cow horse category. Her other full-time position, Managing Partner/CEO with Catalyst LLP in south Calgary, Alberta.

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horse doesn't know how to lie

A horse doesn’t know how to lie – Murray McGonigle

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.

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Does Your Leadership Language need an Interpreter?

Leadership300_horzDo 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.

“How can I trust your yes, if you can’t say No?”

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!

There is no shame in getting bucked off

BuckedOffA very unsettled horse was leaping toward me and the chances of one or all four feet hitting me was very high. So yes I moved my feet!

In a horse’s world, who moves who’s feet is a clear case of leader. So while Gabe was trying to unload the saddle, or what he perceived as a threat, moving my feet was NOT what I was supposed to do. Getting the horse to move his feet forward is the goal, to achieve that you need to move yours. This simple, but not necessarily easy tactic, will help him find the comfort and leadership he needs.

At that particular moment, it was hard to determine if being on foot was actually a good thing. Not a bronc rider by skill I have been seeking out help from a few experts to get me work through the glitches so Gabe joined me in Montana to ride with Buck Brannaman. If you have read previous articles or seen the movie BUCK then his philosophy will sound familiar “Horsemanship isn’t about working on the horse, it’s about working on you.” A thought that influences my horsemanship and leadership in The Natural Leader programs.

A recent session once again highlighted the similarities between how horses and people can respond in a stressful situation.

She had executed not one but three downward dog stretches, two with a human on her back. While I noticed Sydney’s outward signs of stress I hadn’t taken into account it began when one woman took her lead. Sydney is a big horse and clearly demonstrates confidence in the herd, though like all horses is very sensitive to people’s stress. I should know by now that when Sydney starts these behaviours no matter how comfortable someone says they are, Syd knows better.

Through the first few strides of the team activity Sydney reached out three times to express her concern. On her third polite attempt contribute to the collective experience I suggested we synch the energy of the group with a deep breath, knowing full well that Sydney’s next attempt to communicate with this woman would not be lips only.

What happened next I expect reflects a typical response to a stressful situation. Rather than a deep yoga like breath I was on the receiving end of a verbal attack, apparently I was the source of all the stress. As if I had been bucked off, I stepped back.

While the participants bite was with words I was not about to let Sydney follow through on her promise. I had to shake off the momentary state of shock and step forward and shut the activity down to debrief what was going on.

When we say a horse is our mirror, through the activity Sydney had been reflecting the stress of the entire group, she was clearly demonstrating her vulnerability and that it was more than she could handle. I wish I could say the debrief was excellent, I have since thought of all the things I should have or could have said.

As Patrick Lencioni outlines in The Five Dysfunctions of a Team identifying vulnerability is the heart of creating trust. The work with horses often brings forward the emotions that expose vulnerability, people may miss or misinterpret it, the horses read it loud and clear. The most challenging part of team work is facilitating what shows up and engaging the team in a dialogue that can continue beyond the activities in the arena.

There is no shame in getting bucked off or failing to show up if we learn from what happened. As a leader I should have stepped in sooner to support Sydney. In my role as a facilitator I should have been able to use the situation to get the group talking about stress in the workplace. I recognize I was unprepared for what happened and I didn’t have the skill or experience to handle what showed up. I do now!

I want to be a better horseman, leader and human being. As long as I consider myself to be a work in progress that vulnerability allows room for improvement. The more I remember to step forward in a stressful situation the easier it will be to be confident and assertive even as I am learning. I may not always do exactly the right thing but at least I will be doing something.

Is it a question of trust?

web_featureMarch13News feeds have been all a buzz about Melisa Mayer’s recent decision to eliminate remote work at Yahoo. As I write, one online poll suggests people are evenly split as to whether they agree with Mayer or not. The comments are full of strongly differing opinions, so one could say the decision is an emotional issue!

Some sources state her decision was based on a tendency to use statistics, that she had been monitoring remote workers VPN access. Other sources say it’s simply an effort to strengthen the brand and reposition Yahoo for the mobile generation.

Having worked at one of those upstart internet companies I have a sense of the work. People all over the globe could be part of a team. VPN access could only be a small part of the real issue as much work is done on a local machine, uploading data/code to the main server as needed.

This news is hot on the heels of an amazing discussion I had over lunch at a friends last week. The topic “when women have worked so hard to get into a position of power Why then are they not even more supportive of other women?”

The discussion flowed from one example of a senior manager who was ready to get rid of a woman on her team. When questioned as to what were her reasons, it was revealed the subject was indeed one of the best performers, provided superior work, never missed a deadline and excelled at every way. My friend somewhat taken aback over how venomous the statements came out, through a few more questions revealed the anger stemmed from the freedom that the contract employee was able to enjoy. The contractor came in for meetings but mostly worked from home. While I may have forgotten the exact questions, the response sticks in my mind “I paid my dues, she should pay hers!”

So my question to Mayer would be “Is it really about getting the work done, or is it a Matter of Trust?”

I understand the Yahoo decision isn’t a gender issue though I can’t say I see Mayer’s perspective. Today’s Business Insider says it’s about culture so perhaps a change in work habits is required. A culture is defined by its leader, the foundation of leadership is trust. I may not know what it is to run a company like Yahoo but I am familiar with what it takes to trust others. For them to do their best, I have to trust myself first.

I’ve started enough colts now to see the connection between how I react to what is offered. Each colt may test me in a different way but it always comes down to how I respond. I admit sometimes it gets a little scary and yes my emotions can get the better of me, but if I don’t trust myself first, there is no way the colt will trust me. You can’t fake trust, or at least I have to admit to the fact that the colt will see it, if that shows up then I certainly have to be prepared for the worst.

I can only hope that Mayer is able to rebuild trust enough to change the culture she suggests is the problem with Yahoo.

So yes, it now is a matter of trust.

In The Moment

“A horse lives in the present.”

We get caught up in the past and can easily be swayed by what the future holds. A horse is only concerned with what is happening in the moment. As a leadership learning partner, they provide the opportunity for us to see the importance of being present with those we are with.

I spent fifteen years of my career as a project manager. I traveled a lot, worked with a variety of different clients and had to coordinate many different types of people and services. I admit I was guilty of believing I was a great multi-tasker. I thought I was brilliant at handling many things at once, what I now know is our brain is actually only capable of handling one thing at a time. Something David Eagleman explains in his book “Incognito – The Secret Lives of the Brain”. Fortunately the number of things our brains can process is huge allowing us to handle multiple activities concurrently, but we can only focus on one thing at a time.

A horse helps us see how important that is, a learning I have now received many times over. Rhys simply happens to be the best horse at noticing when my attention has drifted for that split second. A skill he demonstrated at a recent program, when a participant shared her learning in a debrief.

“Rhys gets easily bothered if you micro-manage him.” she shared, “when I assume I am in control, he takes over. If I default to managing him by holding the lead shorter, he gets pushy. When I am consistent in defining my boundaries and he is clear on what he can do, he settles down and is really easy to work with.”

Highly sensitive Rhys has become a brilliant teacher in The Natural Leader programs quickly assessing the leadership style of those with him. He can become over reactive with the command control individual, a bully with the pushover and an absolute lap dog with those who recognize he can be a brilliant performer with the right support.

To a horse “Everything means something” Rhys simply demands that you focus on what is happening in the moment and that you adjust to fit the situation. He is very aware of input even when you may not be. Rhys makes it perfectly clear that you should only focus on one thing at a time and helps you recognize what effective communication looks like.

Rhys is just one of the learning partners I have the pleasure of being with everyday. Each horse offers something new even if it is just that reminder to be present. That is what voice mail is for.

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