What can leaders learn from horse whispering?

More than three-quarters of organisations report that they will be carrying out leadership development activities in the next 12 months, according to new research.

CIPD’s Learning and Development report 2015, found that half of all companies surveyed said that one of the top three priorities of their leadership development activities will be equipping line managers to improve staff performance.

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Other priorities include changing or enhancing the organisational culture (45 per cent) and improving the skills of existing leaders to think in a more strategic and future-focused way (40 per cent).

Leadership development can take many forms, from classroom learning, e-learning and coaching to more ‘innovative’ leadership development programmes such as horse whispering courses, designed to take people out of their comfort zone.   

At first glance, linking horse whispering to leadership success could seem like a strange concept, but some companies are turning to this ancient art to teach people new leadership skills, improve their communication styles and help hone their management techniques.

Leaders can learn a great deal about the ways they communicate in business by learning to communicate with horses.

We have seen an increase in the number organisations in the UK sending their executives on horse whispering courses to help address business challenges, improve performance, help drive change management and of course, enhance leadership competence.

Horse whispering is all about speaking to horses in their own language using non-verbal communication skills and body language. Because horses are individuals, it is easy to make connections between communicating with them and communicating with people, especially given that most human communication is non-verbal.

Dr Albert Mehrabian, Professor Emeritus of Psychology, UCLA, has become known best by his publications on the relative importance of verbal and nonverbal messages.

He has conducted several studies on nonverbal communication and found that only 7 per cent of any message is conveyed though actual words, with 93 per cent nonverbal such as facial expressions, posture and tone.

While the exact percentages have been debated since his studies were published, there is no doubt about the importance of non-verbal communication, especially in business.

Why use horses?

As the old adage says: “The art of communication is not treating someone how you would like to be treated, it is more: it is treating them how they would like to be treated.”

The purpose of training with horses is to demonstrate that all forms of leadership require good communication, and leaders can learn a great deal about the ways in which they communicate in business by learning to communicate with horses.

Mastering the techniques of horse whispering are completely akin to mastering leadership skills.

Horses do not respond to verbal communication; getting a horse to obey a series of commands requires strong and consistent direction and this needs to be communicated non-verbally, solely through the use of body language.

By taking away words, people are forced to really think about the way they act and the impact this has on others. For some people, it can be a real eye opener and quite a shock. Achieving rapport with a horse so that a relationship of mutual trust is established is not about showmanship, dominance and invitation; it is about establishing ground rules and boundaries and communicating constantly.

Horses don’t lie, people do. Horses have no preconceived ideas and are not prejudiced by who people are, the house they live in, the clothes they wear, or the car they drive. Horses also live in the moment and to communicate effectively with people you have to really “be there” too.

Often people spend their time worrying about what happened in the past and planning what will happen in the future and not really being present in the here and now. Working with horses can help people become more focused on the present.

Horses are only interested in three things and in order to lead a horse people have to achieve 100 per cent trust, respect and clarity. They have to be totally clear about what they want them to do otherwise they won’t follow.

Horses will choose the best option open to them at any given moment so creating the right environment will ensure the horse makes the right choice. Just like people.

Understanding how to communicate on this level with horses can be directly translated into the business environment and can really enhance leadership skills.

What skills can leaders learn?

Authentic leadership is about being empathetic, getting your message across non-verbally and using positive reinforcement.

As horses do not respond to verbal communication, getting a horse to obey a series of commands requires strong and consistent direction – it is the same in business.

Any loss of concentration or inconsistency is picked up by the horse; they will quickly lose interest causing the horse whisperer to fail their task. With horses you get what you asked for even if that wasn’t what you wanted.

The meaning of the communication always lies in the other person’s understanding and working with horses can help people think about how they communicate and whether they are actually communicating what they intended.

Leaders can learn to be empathetic which will enhance communication and help them build relationships. Horses are prey animals: humans are predators. Horses can help people understand someone else’s perspective that is completely different from our own. Being able to see things through someone else’s eyes as well as listening to another person’s point of view is crucial to being a good leader. 

Being consistent in your behaviour so that people want to be involved with you is another core leadership skill that can be learnt.

Horses view consistency as being the same as integrity and having a “bad day” is just as unacceptable with horses as it is when working with people.

Creating respect without fear and developing sustainable relationships based on mutual trust should be the aim of all leaders, and horses, just like people do not respond well to aggressive or submissive behaviour.

Rapport building with people and horses is about mutual respect and horse whispering can improve the way leaders deal with people.

Working with horses can help take leaders out of their comfort zone and teach them strong leaderships skills in a creative and memorable away.

Most won’t have been near a horse before let alone tried to communicate with one and learning to connect with a horse can give them the tools to better connect and influence people as a leader. 

Spring Partnerships is partnered with a Horse Whispering company to offer highly creative and innovative leadership training courses with horses. They are one of the few providers in the UK and have put many companies such as Carlsberg UK, to name but a few through the programme.




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