4 leadership lessons from horse whispering

Trainers say that leading a horse only requires three main things: establishing trust, demonstrating respect, and communicating directions clearly. Here are the main leadership lessons to learn from horse whisperers.

Studies into human communication reveals that only 7 per cent of any communication is conveyed though actual words; 93 per cent are conveyed nonverbally, through facial expressions, posture and tone.

Horse whispering is all about communicating using non-verbal cues and body language. Trainers believe horses are as unique as individuals, so it’s easy to extrapolate this form of communication for between interpersonal conversations.

Trainers say that leading a horse only requires three main things: establishing trust, demonstrating respect, and communicating directions clearly. Here are the main leadership lessons to learn from communicating with horses.

1. Adapt to your audience

It takes a certain approach to truly connect with horses, and according to trainers, each horse has its own personality and inherent behavioural patterns. And unlike humans, horses don’t lie. They have no biases, and have no hidden agendas. Their response to individual humans is based on the way they are treated in the here-and-now, which is useful feedback for leaders who may be used to sycophants at the office.

2. Be respectful

Achieving a rapport with a horse requires adapting to the horse’s personality traits and establishing boundaries based on give-and-take. When communicating with horses, your biggest task is to establish respect without fear, based on mutual trust. Horses, just like people do not respond well to aggressive or submissive behaviour.

3. Communicate clearly

Most horses are naturally skilled at making the best choice they can in any given situation – just like people – so communicating clearly is essential to build a relationship. Understanding how to communicate on this level with horses can be directly translated into the business environment and can really enhance leadership skills. 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. 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.

4. Be consistent

Horses are generally empathetic and can pick up on subtleties we may not notice we’re demonstrating. For example, any loss of concentration or inconsistency in your command and body language is easily picked up by the horse. They will quickly lose interest if you’re not consistent in your commands. 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.

Over the past decade, a growing number of business training organisations have been cropping up in the UK, offering equine communications as a way to help leaders address business challenges, improve performance, and enhance their management style.

The Leadership Whisperers, founded in 2014 in Warwickshire by former IBM employee Jude Jennison and HR consultant Emma Taylor, offers horse whispering courses for leadership. To date, the company has worked exclusively with large corporates, working with horses to help participants identify default patterns of behaviour, build better relationships and communicate more effectively.

From last November, The Leadership Whisperers have launched a business delegate package for small business owners and managers to take part in a half-day leadership training session, which includes both boardroom-based discussion and ‘hands on’ interactive sessions with horses.

“Horses mirror non-verbal communication and provide non-judgmental feedback. Experiencing this enables individuals and teams to modify their leadership behaviours and improve their results,” according to co-founder Emma Taylor.

“Clients who have undertaken our training have reported improved financial performance, greater focus and clarity and better teamwork and communication once back in the workplace.”

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda was Editor for GrowthBusiness.co.uk from 2016 to 2018.

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