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5 Traits of Situational Leadership from the Horse’s Mouth

For organizations to excel in this dynamic age of disruptive technologies and shifting workplace attitudes, the maturity of sound leadership takes some Horse Quotient and "horse sense".

The race is never really over. For a certain breed, it’s about running in all directions with no clear vision; for others, it’s an ongoing pursuit of continually shifting goals and goal posts. For organizations to excel in this dynamic age of disruptive technologies and shifting workplace attitudes, the maturity of sound leadership is always going to be the deal-breaker! What would a rat race look like if it suddenly became a horse race: would employees standing for a well-bred and disciplined approach make a more ‘stable’ workforce?

Horses are majestic animals; gentle yet mighty in form and stature. There’s unbridled joy of looking at raw, uncontrolled energy of a herd of horses on display. I had never seen them at close quarters until I was invited with my family to a workshop conducted by HQ Leadership India. HQ stands for Horse Quotient. The horse is known to mirror a person’s outwardly body language that is reflected from their inner attitude of self-assurance, reliability, courage and sensitivity. Developing one’s Horse Quotient is the necessary precursor to the other popular Qs like IQ, EQ and SQ. It encompasses all the Qs we’ve heard about in the most enchanting manner.

This workshop was a first-hand experience to develop a close connection with horses and understand what it takes to become a horse whisperer. You heard that right, horse whisperers apply to the corporate world too and great leaders share a number of striking similarities with horse whisperers! It’s an evolution of the Horse Dream concept that has its roots in Germany and is used by Fortune 500 companies to help managers take their leadership to the next level. Isabelle Hasleder who is the Founder and Trainer at HQ Leadership India says this is the first time it was happening in India.

The round of introduction from horses is very interesting. All of us at corporates, who stick by a scripted intro or a boring business card, must watch the way horses introduce themselves to an audience. The hitherto tethered horse when let loose, is seen romping around, expressing itself with high-spirited abandon — and more importantly — establishing a leader-follower relationship with everyone in the pack. It is evident who the leaders and followers were among groups, and the overall leader of the herd through their interactions. The leader of the herd was unfazed when an aggressor was trying very hard to get her attention.

One needs to develop “horse sense” as Hasleder puts it. This goes far beyond the horse sense that’s come to be associated with just common sense! It was the last round that was my personal favourite. Individual participants were put in a circular enclosure with a horse. They had to command the horse to run around the circle with a short flexible whip without actually touching the horse but using it to emphasize body language and authority which the horse will pick up. If your voice appears edgy the horse wouldn’t budge and keeps grazing.  

Once you get the horse off the ground, it runs around the circle in a way that’s pleasing to the eye! You need to keep following from the back so that the horse knows you’re in control of its movement. Once in motion, as you slow down your pace, the horse also slows down until you keep going slower to make it come to a complete halt.

Once this leadership is established, the horse needs to know you can be trusted. You’re now in the centre of the ring with the horse at the edge of the circle. Moving forward and showing authority or hand gestures to make the horse come forward always goes in vain. It’s only when you move backwards that the horse senses you can be trusted and starts walking towards you. This is the “moment of truth” managers face in the day-to-day dealings of their team members, uncertain when to command and when to step back, letting the team open up to you as a trusted manager.  To sum up the five different traits of situational leadership one can learn from horses are:

  1. Honesty. Staying true to your integral values at all times is the foundation of leadership, no matter what the situation is. If your internal attitude and exterior are not in conflict, your drive, passion and energy would carry through to reflect your inner values. Authenticity always wins!
  2. Openness. Horses never hide their emotions and they expect the same from humans. They don’t come with biases. Unlike dogs who attach themselves to humans, horses are more inclined towards the personality, confidence and energy-levels of the people they’d like to follow regardless of the familiarity factor.
  3. Reliability. The horse is known to be reliable to the extent that the trust can be built. It’s for this trust to be nurtured that true reliability is maintained. As situations change, humans should adapt to bring about a new sense of trust with their peers and team members that will take their leadership to the next level.
  4. Sensitivity. Emotions of horses are nearly as complex as that of humans. They can sense the anxiety from a distance and can feel angry, sad or happy just like people. You can absorb the horses’ sensitivity to nature to truly become aware of your surroundings and choose what you need to react to. Human relationships are built and enhanced by being sensitive to one another’s needs and getting a pulse of what people feel from time to time. The best leaders are those that practice this often.
  5. Empathy. Horses are known to mirror the human’s innermost emotions swaying from being boisterous to a tad gentle, according to how a human feels.  It’s important not to be confused or inauthentic to yourself as the horse would behave accordingly. With such sensitivity and empathy, humans can learn from horses how to perceive dangers or opportunities from a distance and respond to situations with true authenticity.

Experiencing a herd of horses at close quarters and interacting with them is in one-word therapeutic. While management books can teach you a lesson or two, it’s the experiential learning of being in a situation to learn, unlearn and test the waters time and again that will do leaders a world of good! This will help them not only weather the proverbial storm but also gallop to greater heights! Horse Power will take on a whole new meaning when Horse Quotient comes into play.  

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