Leadership is NOT a Wardrobe issue

An Invitation

The following is an excerpt (of sorts) from my latest book “Leadership is NOT a Wardrobe Issue” the book continues to document the learning I have gained through interactions with horses and people, connecting the power of horsemanship to leadership learning . Leadership is NOT a Wardrobe Issue expands on earlier works: The Games People Play with Horses; Creating Exceptional Leaders through Learning with Horses; and In Business to Define. 

An Invitation can be accepted, modified or declined. 

Leadership is an invitation. It is an invitation to step up, take a risk, and step outside your comfort zone. 

My mentor, Fred Jacques introduced me to the “Invitation.” Through eight years working with Fred I had the opportunity to see excellent leadership facilitation in action. Fred’s observations are always spot on, he is gracious, funny and could brilliantly articulate the connections between humans and horses to leadership in the workplace. I can’t begin to express how much I learned watching, listening to and asking questions of Fred. 

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The Natural Leader participates in The Calgary Stampede

An invitation can be accepted, modified or declined, the perfect way to introduce a program with horses. The activities and interactions must be an invitation to participate. For some working with a horse will be way out of their comfort zone, so when I make the invitation I also have to be prepared for them to decline. Out of the thousands of individuals who I have had the privilege of hosting in the arena, only once has someone flatly refused to take the lead rope. With a fair bit of encouragement from myself and her team she agreed to sit on the bleachers at the end of the arena. We gave her a job, she was to pay attention to changes in people and horses and share what she observed. To ensure she could hear the conversation, questions and learnings we debriefed each activity beside the bleachers. While she didn’t take the lead rope, she modified the invitation and did participate. For that I am glad. 

I have met many who are fearful and know I can’t say, don’t be afraid, and expect that to hold any meaning. I personally experienced what fear of horses felt like when a concussion left a blank about what had happened. I had to learn to overcome the what if of that blank to participate in the what is of what was showing up. That accident gave me a window into what people may be experiencing when they say they are fearful. I explore part of that experience in my 2016 TEDxYYC Talk.

How I support someone through the invitation is important, as an individual’s greatest learning can happen on the edge of their comfort zone. However, what is even more important than negating someone’s fear is I can’t become someone’s bubble wrap! Most of the time I simple need to support them until they have enough information and are ready to take those initial steps, no matter how tentative.

Guiding someone on that edge I have used numerous questions and horsemanship tactics. There is a section in “Leadership is NOT a Wardrobe Issue” called Coachable Momentswhere I have captured numerous questions, pairing them with personal experiences and horsemanship examples with a view to creating one-on-one activities within the context of a larger program.

The Coachable Moments customize each conversation and experience. As a coach I have learned to be efficient and more effective, as a facilitator I need to be equitable in how I divide my time. 

One of the greatest challenges with group leadership work is the limited amount of time you have with each individual.

• Wisdom that Fred offered early on, you can’t let one person monopolize your time and you cannot ignore another. Finding a balance is a constant struggle—it can be exhilarating and exhausting. 

• Having competent and confident help is critical to the success of your business. In The Natural Leader programs we have Wranglers with a Difference. Along with the logistics of handling the horses, I rely on them to to support, coach, and challenge participants in the arena. 

Invitation is truly the right word to use in a leadership program with horses. Each invitation, each interaction, is an opportunity. Whether that “Invitation” is accepted, modified or declined, comes down to how you manage each and every conversation you have within the limited time of that program.


Contact Nancy Lowery at nancy@TheNaturalLeader.ca or 403.669.3666 to learn more about Leadership is NOT a Wardrobe Issue or to schedule an interview. More information about Nancy and The Natural Leader can be found at www.TheNaturalLeader.ca . 

Nancy draws on personal experiences starting horses as the foundation for the programs she offers. Like horsemanship, you can grasp the concepts and theories of leadership, but both rely on the understanding gained through actually doing the work. Combining horses, a design degree and fifteen years managing marketing and communication programs for a national and international clientele, has given Nancy a foundation of meaningful parallels to the workplace. Previous works include the two-volume series The Games People Play with Horses; Creating Exceptional Leaders Through Learning with Horses and In Business to define – marketing your equine business. Nancy has presented at numerous conferences, 

What is a better question? The Natural Leader

What’s a better question?

The following is an excerpt from my new book Leadership is NOT a Wardrobe Issue. Exploring life lessons on horsemanship and how those learnings apply through the leadership programs of The Natural Leader. A fifteen-year veteran of the experiential equine learning industry Nancy has delivered hundreds of programs to thousands of individuals.  

What’s a better question?

Questions can improve learning, encourage exchange of ideas, fuel innovation and improve performance. So how do you ask better questions in order to build rapport and trust with a client or among team members? 

We often approach asking questions the way a lawyer would: to provide answers in support of what we already know, to ensure specific outcomes or confirm a bias. In coaching with horses, or pretty much any situation, we need to ask questions the way a scientist would—questions that invite curiousity, vulnerability and honesty.

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In the 1970’s Alison and Harvard University colleagues conducted research on asking questions.(1) They determined we ask questions with two main goals, to unlock learning or improve likeability. While the focus of their research was whether a person might be interested in dating the individual who asked the questions, they found the more follow-up questions someone asked, the more likely the other person found them to be likeable. 

The volume of questions is of course not the most important aspect, but rather the type, tone, sequence and context of the questions. 

In working with a horse many people are way outside their comfort zone, so they need to feel that they are being heard. The questions you ask might follow two different approaches. 

Approach One: Introductory Questions These soft opening questions are a great approach in a one-on-one coaching situation, as they are questions people generally enjoy answering. As the person gains comfort, gradually introduce questions that delve deeper and require them to reflect on how their actions move from the arena to the workplace. 

Approach Two: Tough Questions Without the luxury of time for gradual questioning in a group leadership program, you might just have to start with tough questions. Questions that help someone see the obvious—what it is they’re doing and what they may need to change. 

Either way, you are looking to unlock learning, get people to open up and be curious, and help them see how what’s happening for them now relates back to the workplace—or as we have often found, to life in general.

Sometimes they don’t know what they don’t know

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Having people ask a question is a great way to begin a debrief. Because when you begin with a question, the same people typically speak up. When you ask participants to come up with a question, you have offered up a coaching opportunity. 

Challenging people to ask questions means they have to get creative about the problem. They get to practice asking better questions. I find these debriefs fascinating—people really take on responsibility for their own learning. The most challenging part is keeping things on schedule!

The Alison and Harvard University colleagues set out to determine likability, as a leader your goal is more likely to bring out the best in another or help a team to become more effective. Closed-ended questions are generally easier to ask, and answer. Open-ended questions are where we demonstrate curiosity, our own vulnerability, and provide the opportunity to unlock learning potential. Asking good questions takes time, it is a skill you develop and it takes practice. Lots of practice!


Nancy Lowery has been blogging on leadership learnings through her horsemanship for over fifteen years. Leadership is NOT a Wardrobe Issue is a culmination of a lifetime of learning and speaks to why some learning simply takes a lifetime. 

For more information about Leadership is NOT a Wardrobe Issue or The Natural Leader programs contact Nancy Lowery at nancy@TheNaturalLeader.ca or 403.669.3666 More information can be found at www.TheNaturalLeader.ca – our next open program The Reins of Responsibility is October 3, 2019 in Calgary AB.

1- Alison and Harvard – It Doesn’t Hurt to Ask: Question-Asking Increases Liking; Huang, Karen; Yeomans, Michael; Wood-Brooks, Alison; Minson, Julia; Gino, Francesca, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 2017, Vol. 113, No.3, 430-452. https://www.hbs.edu/faculty/Publication%20Files/Huang%20et%20al%202017_6945bc5e-3b3e-4c0a-addd-254c9e603c60.pdf 

Leadership is NOT a Wardrobe Issue

Excerpt from my new book Leadership is NOT a Wardrobe Issue. Exploring life lessons on horsemanship and how those learnings apply through the leadership programs of The Natural Leader. A fifteen-year veteran of the experiential equine learning industry Nancy has delivered hundreds of programs to thousands of individuals.

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John Scott, horses on the set

“John is and always will be a cornerstone in the Alberta movie business. He has given an opportunity to an awful lot of people.” – Brent Woolsey

A third generation Alberta rancher it would be hard to find words to better introduce John. Along with running a The Scott Ranch and a number of movie locations, John has been a part of over 130 projects, including 4 Oscar winning movies. In his near 40 years in the movie industry John has been a stunt co-ordinator and performer, head wrangler, animal wrangler,  location scout, and transportation coordinator. In 2017 Scott was nominated for the Calgary Stampede Western Legacy Award.

There are few cowboys who have dealt with as many people as John, so I asked him how his experience with horses has helped him through the years.

“Never do anything that will embarrass your mother.” John Scott Grows Alberta by PattonCommunications.


JS – I think what my horses have taught me about leadership is to have patience and to assess the situation. See if the horse is comfortable with the situation what he is doing, he’ll tell you, his eyes, his ears. Just to be more observant about what is going on around you.

Well the same goes for working with people, if you are more observant working with people and what they are doing, it helps you avoid accidents. Some people need more patience than others.

TNL – Over the years in ranch life and in the movie industry: What do you believe is the most important thing the people you have worked with become aware of through working with horses?

John Scott – ATB Community











JS – Communication – it’s one word communication – it’s how you communicate with the horse. If you come on rough and gruff right off the bat, he’s gonna get scared of you then the horse will back away from ya, if you approach in a more gentle manner then he’s going to be a little bit more inquisitive about what you want to do and try a little bit harder. And people seem to get it.

TNL – When people begin to see how the horse changes when they change, have noticed that patience shows up in their dealings with other people/

JS – If you are working with a group of people once they come to understand what you are trying to do, and accomplish they might be a bit more forth coming and bit more helpful.

Like once the horse gets to know you they’ll be fine, same with a person, once they get to know you they’ll have confidence that you are not going to hurt them.

TNL – You began with the word patience – have you found your patience has improved over the years with horses and people.

JS – It’s definitely improved with horses – some people are a little slower to catch on.

Be interesting in what they do. Same with a horse you try and pay attention and figure out what interests them. You try and read a horse you try to figure it out. One example we had a horse that we had trouble bridling. He was worried about being beat around the head and very head shy. It took us about four months for get him to over it and he had confidence in us and we were able to bridle him easily.

TNL – If there is one thing a horse could teach another human being in their interactions with other humans.

JS – Well it’s different aspects depending on what you do. Take for example Therapeutic riding they provide an outlet to experience something different. A cutting horse will give the rider quite a bit of acceleration and the rider has to plan what he wants to do and the horse has to know what he is supposed to do and they have to work together. On a bucking horse, the rider has to know what the horse’s pattern is and whether he comes out of the chute to the left or the ride, whether or he drops his shoulder.  You have to be able to assess the situation of what you want to do and what you’re are going to be doing.

TNL – Do you believe you assess the situation the same going into a meeting?

JS – Yes



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” exploring what other leaders in Calgary have learned about their 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. 


“Never say WHOA in a mud hole.”

Wrangling the Greatest Show on Earth – Bob Thompson

The week before the 2018 Calgary Stampede, Past President and Chairman of the Stampede Board of Directors, Bob Thompson took time out of his busy schedule to speak with me. You could say that Bob had the dubious honor of holding that role in what might go down as the toughest year in Stampede history. That was 2013, the year the Bow and Elbow Rivers flooded downtown Calgary and the entire grounds fourteen days before the Stampede was set to open.

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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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On Timing – thank you Dave Mowat

Feel, timing and balance. You can’t improve on those three words when working with a horse. You can’t have one without the other and each builds on the previous in an ongoing progression.

Feel is about the relationship between two individuals, it is the give and take in a conversation. Timing is about when to ask, when to listen and when to just sit. Finally, without balance nothing else works.

In my world, leadership and horsemanship are inextricably linked. So feel, timing and balance could also describe the role that Dave Mowat has played at ATBFinancial the past eleven years.

Timing is everything. Dave recently announced he is set to retire in June 2018 as President and CEO of ATBFinancial. The timing of Dave’s departure is most interesting, Dave is leaving when everything feels good. Through his tenure ATB’s assets have grown to $49.6 billion from $20.3 billion, revenue has doubled to $1.5 billion and branch footprint grown by 9%. That is quite an accomplishment in an economic environment that has been anything but great in Alberta for a number of years.

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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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