Trust: Thin as a blade of Grass
If you missed the beginning of this story you can read it by clicking "Jazzy Goals and the Brass Ring".
In order for a horse to allow you to lead them they must trust you. Building trust with a horse similar to building trust in any relationship, be it with a co-worker, employee, spouse, child, freind or parent. Trust is as thin and fragile as a blade of grass, hard to develop and grow and easy to break and destroy. It requires you to:
Be consistent: Actions, communication and behaviors provide insight into you as a person and leader. Horses require your actions to be consistent; you must project a unified message in your actions, emotions, thoughts and behaviors. A happy face with an unfocused mind and tension in your body sends a confusing message to a horse. They will move away from you and not understand what you want. A co-worker or employee may attempt to complete your request because of your title or position, but a horse doesn't care about that. They want to know you are focused, clear in your message, a better leader than they, and you are safe.
Allow learning: Making the right things easy and the wrong things harder allows a horse to learn without punishing them. Moving Jazz to the left requires consistently giving her the same message and signal to go to the left. If she turns right I make it a little harder by asking her to move sideways and then asking sher to go left. Eventually, she finds out that going left is easier because there is no sideways movement and she learns the signal for going left. Allowing room for mistakes so they can learn requires a leader to be patient and to recognize not everyone learns in the same way or at the same pace. Allow for differences.
Recognize the try: One little "try" from the horse that goes unrecognized can mount into unwanted behaviors or negative attitude. In the frenzy of emotional outbursts with Jazz it was easy to miss the small incremental try on her part to do what I asked. I had to develop a keen awareness of every movement and reward the slightest change. Jazz continually challenged me to be consistent, fair, focused, and recognize the slight improvement.
Admit your mistakes: It might sound silly to admit to a horse when I made a mistake. By admitting to Jazz that I was wrong, allowed her to know I was learning from my mistakes and we were in the relationship together. It was a turning point to bond our relationship. Leaders that admit when they are wrong become stronger leaders with integrity in the eyes of their followers.
Spend time together: Many leaders forget to spend time in non-work related activist. A little fun, understanding, acknowledgement about their life outside of the working relationship can go a long way in developing trust. I approached my early relationship with Jazz as "work" because it was hard and draining. I literally would say "are you ready to work today?" Changing my approach and spending time just watching her play in the field, eat grass, grooming her, or sitting with her moved us closer to our goal.
Listen: One day I asked Jazz to help me and tell me what needed to be different. When I put her bride on she dropped her head to the ground and would not lift it up. I didn't understand, then it hit me…. I asked now I need to listen. I put the bride down, and put the rope halter back on her without hesitation. We then had a wonderful ride together. Another time Jazz would not stand still for me to mount. The moment I got one I knew it was a mistake, the saddle slipped, I threw myself to the ground and watched her run till I could calm her down. I had not listened to her telling me to check the saddle and we both paid the price. Asking questions is good, but you have to be willing to listen and hear the answers.
Trust is an on-going process, a two way street and as thin as a blade of grass. Kouzes & Posner say it well in their book The Leadership Challenge "Building trust is a process that begins when on party is willing to risk being the first to open up. Demonstrating your trust in other people encourages them to trust in return. People must feel safe and secure to develop trust." Hard to build but easy to destroy!
Are you building or destroying trust? Ask yourself (and be honest no one is listening):
1. How open am I with my employees, co-workers, boss, spouse, and children?
2. Am I willing and do I trust others and tell or show them I trust them?
3. Do people feel safe around me?
4. How much of my time is spent asking questions and really listening?
5. Do I nurture learning and creativity?