At 3 day horse riding clinic I learned a lot and had to unlearned a lot more. Unlearning 10 years of engrained behaviors and patterns humbled me. Many of my lessons echoed leadership issues my clients have expressed.
It is one thing to know an issue exists with your leadership, but quite another to change it. Leaders go through education programs, join professional groups, read leadership books and do numerous things to increase their leadership effectiveness. How much has improved with your efforts? What I have observed is we (me included) tend to push for a BIG leap, the next big thing, the one tactic, the one book, the one educational program to make everything right. Yet our efforts fail to live up to our expectations.
At the riding clinic, Larry Whitesell, a gentle and wonderful teacher, provided me with an understanding of "WHY" Jazz (my sensitive mare) was responding to my leadership vs. just trying to "FIX" us or tell us what to do. His explanation was logical. Larry broke the process of specific riding moves into small digestible pieces of learning that we practiced. Once we performed the movement with ease, he would add another step. Larry provided building blocks, knowledge and encouragement to continue working the process before adding another challenge. We did small movements. When it was done in the correct manner, the horse moved easily, without emotion and was relaxed.
“Correct” meant, communicating to Jazz in a way that she could move in a balanced and in a relaxed way while carrying me on her back. As her leader, it was my responsibility to communicate to her with my aids (seat, calves & reins) in a clear and consistent manner so she understood what I wanted. It was incumbent on me, her leader, to ensure the same message was sent each time so she could learn AND for me to do what was necessary to make it easier for her to move. In other words... I needed to get out of her way so she could perform in a balanced way.
Larry pointed out that most riders punished their horse (pulling on their mouth, being frustrated, and getting upset with the horse) for not doing a movement correctly but rarely rewarded the horse for doing it right. I on the other hand, tended to reward Jazz constantly. She is my friend and I wanted to keep it that way.
Both methods led to mixed messages. Jazz needed to trust me to be her leader, not her friend. I was building trust in a new way by learning to communicate consistently. All horses need a strong leader first, someone who can guide them and they can trust to lead them without being hurt. Friendship comes after the trust is earned.
These lessons with Jazz are consistent for strong Leadership in the workplace. Communicating clearly and consistently provides an understanding of what is expected, getting out of their way creates their ability to move easily and accomplish their goals, rewarding the desire behavior reinforces what is wanted versus what is NOT wanted while increasing their understanding of what it takes for them to be successful. Trust in your leadership abilities is EARNED, not granted, and friendship is not necessary to be a good leader.
Are you being clear and consistent in your messages to your follower-ship? Do your reward the good behavior or only punish the bad (employees and yourself)? Do you get out of their way to make their movement towards the goal easier, OR put road blocks in the way? Do you take small steps to build your leadership skills, or do you LEAP and lose your balance? Do you strive to make friends with those you lead?
Big is not better. In reality, smaller incremental steps, communicated clearly & consistently, add up to a much bigger movement that is easier to sustain. Past patterns can be changed and new ways can be learned, when using the building block approach. Small is Big…. Big is small and it may take some unlearning along the way.
Sue E. Thomas
Professional Certified Coach
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