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?

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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?”

Finding Schwung

May2014_zeeSchwung Isn’t that an awesome word?


A few of the definitions you will find are momentum; swing; flourish or impulsion. A German word more often heard in dressage circles, Schwung is much more than any one of those words. The fourth level of the dressage training scale, Schwung refers to “the circuit of energy from the rider through the hind end to the front end of the horse.” or the fluid and seemingly effortless motion of horse and rider moving as one. Successful development of the foundational elements of knowledge, practice and awareness determine if you ever achieve Schwung.

It is this very combination that relates so perfectly to the concept of presence and the art of leadership.As with leadership, the dressage scale is both linear and cyclical. When one point, activity or task is achieved with one individual we have the opportunity to go through it in a similar but different fashion with another. Dressage is the constant pursuit of self improvement.

Relaxation the foundation and first stage of the training scale. This stage is about forward movement and gaining comfort in the company of each other, developing confidence and creating the willingness to learn. Like the foundation of leadership it is about a relationship based on a common language and trust.

Rhythm is about being able to maintain forward motion with clarity and understanding as the tasks become more complex. Here we begin to ask more of the horse and in turn a balance in the roles and responsibilities in the relationship. As we begin to delegate more we can see where another’s behaviour might be a reflection of our request. You are developing your Awareness of Others and your ability to be flexible as you assist someone else to be their best.

Contact is about confident forward motion with a soft, steady connection between horse and rider. Relaxation and Rhythm in place the horse and rider find a common balance point. Here we begin to truly delegate responsibility, encouraging the horse to offer their best.

Ironically Contact is where most relationships begin. Be it horse or human, this is where we know what it is supposed to look like and in the effort to get results we resort to control. In horsemanship it looks like bigger bits, spurs and hard hands, in leadership it is about titles and how much we know and just doing it ourself.

Letting go of the impulse to “take control” is a tough one as it requires us to be confident in the face of the unexpected. It should be about channeling the forward energy and the potential of what it could be. The greatest challenge comes in trusting ourself first and being willing to take the time it takes. Reaching Schwung requires a high degree of self awareness and confidence.

While achieving Schwung may be a goal, it is not the final stage of the Dressage Training Scale. The beauty in choosing an art form is there are so many ways to interpret and apply what you learn. There are no end points in fine horsemanship or leadership, there is always a new opportunity to achieve the seemingly effortless way of being.Achieving Schwung is my current journey in the arena and through the written word. I find Schwung, then I feel like I lose it, It is taking longer than I thought it should it, then again I never realized how much I had to learn. Thank you for joining me on this path.

“Never let the truth, get in the way of the facts.”
Farley Mowat

Collecting a Year of Thought

CollectingTen years ago I embarked on a journey. I have the privilege of saying – I love what I do. That doesn’t mean it has been easy. The choices we make come with a cost – sometimes financial, sometimes emotional, sometimes physical & sometimes all three.

Collecting a Year of Thought is the fourth anthology of images, thoughts and quotes from last year’s newsletters.

Read & share the PDF version of the ebook >>  http://thenaturalleader.local/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/AYearofThought2013_eBook.pdf

To read previous eBooks visit >> The Collections 

The legendary cellist Pablo Casals was asked why he continued to practice at age 90. “Because I think I’m making progress.” he replied.

“How we spend our days is how we spend our lives.”
Annie Dillard

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!

Presence

90daysIt should have been easy. The idea was simple enough, get Gabe used to stuff happening around him.

I have learned how complicated simple can be. Now well past ninety days, we continue one step at a time working through the Tarp Challenge. Gabe remains hesitant about the blue tarp, but what has changed it is that it is no longer about getting him used to the tarp. It is now about how I offer the information and allow him the opportunity to interpret my intention. To a horse everything means something and nothing, means nothing. We are getting closer to nothing.

Horsemanship is a journey and each day with Gabe, each session with people I learn more about how I present myself.  Through recent programs leadership presence has been the focus of conversation. We begin each session asking what would each individual like to get out of their day, defining a goal for themselves. We hear a lot about what they would like to see in their staff, changes in how their communication is received or thoughts that relate to getting others to perform their best, for some it is a challenge to get them to see the role they play in that outcome.

It takes seconds for a horse to figure out a person’s “I statement”. However, having the human articulate it plainly and clearly is another story. When they find it, it is gold for us in the arena.

To be honest it really doesn’t matter whom I pair with who or what activities we have planned for a sessions. The horses simply do what they do and the people will say the the most amazing things. I so love to hear it when someone simply states what they need to do differently as a result of the interactions with the horse. What was challenging for them to articulate in the classroom rolls off their tongue in the arena.

I am so proud of my horses. They do not just tolerate another human on the end of the lead line, but they share with them something that becomes so profound. I know that person is leaving with a whole new perspective on what leadership presence means to them.

Just as it is no longer about getting Gabe used to the commotion going on around him, but rather about how  “I can support and help Gabe understand that he can trust me through whatever may be happening around us.”  I still want Gabe to accept a blue tarp, but it is what I am willing to do in order for him to get there that makes the difference.

What’s in it for me? Immense satisfaction on what I can accomplish if I set my heart and mind to something.