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Wed 4 Mar 2020 04:21 PM

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A lesson in leadership from the herd

Kelly L. Eide is the founder of TRUE, a leadership coaching company that partners with horses to help humans explore the concepts of leadership, communication, creativity and innovation

A lesson in leadership from the herd

Kelly Eide believes that you connect with your own true nature by connecting with nature

When I arrived at the stable that morning I heard there had been a foal born during the night.

As I approached the pasture, the newborn was lying down in the grass sleeping with his mare protectively standing watch over him. Aware of my excitement and energy level, I approached slowly outside the paddock.

She was vigilant as she watched me approach. I deepened my breath and relaxed my body, hoping to get close enough to see the new foal, but prepared to leave if the mare seemed disturbed. If she did not want me near she would push her foal to get up and move away.

I reached the fence line and could see the leggy colt dreaming on the grass as his legs twitched involuntarily with the realisation he was not tucked up in his mother’s belly anymore.

I leaned into the fence, consciously enjoying the stretch in my own back and hamstrings. In that moment, the mare did something completely unexpected. She lay down next to her foal.

I wondered, as she gingerly lowered herself to the ground, if she may be in some pain? I was so honoured, knowing that for a prey animal to give up her one defence - the ability to flee - at this fragile time was an act of trust. As she rested, I understood it was my job to stand sentinel over this herd. So quietly we spent these gentle, precious moments; a small herd, at peace and in the peace of nature.

Lesson in leadership

In this moment, I reflected on the lesson this mare was teaching. Leadership is not about the position you hold. When it was just the two of them she was required to be leader – dominant, and sentinel all at once to keep the two of them safe.

Once I arrived and after her assessment of my presence, she was happy to give up those roles to me - the one better suited in this moment to play those roles. It was an act of trust and resilience to hand off to me when given the opportunity.

Isn’t that what so often stands between us and the self-care required to be resilient? We don’t think we have anybody to hand off to in the moment. This powerful mare showed me that leadership can be shared. She showed me that in a herd, we are strongest and safest together. We don’t have to go it alone.

I coach leaders and teams on high performance, but I believe it’s always more powerful to model than to talk theoretically. So I took that new mother’s leadership lesson right back to my business, applying it to a project I was leading for a team of 50. In putting together my own ‘herd’ to deliver this project,

I had a technical expert, an industry expert and someone with deep regional knowledge to serve this client’s unique needs. I was conscious about putting the right person in the right role.

The client event unfolded over several days. Throughout the effort, we each stepped forward to offer our expertise to the clients and also stepped back when appropriate to give each other the chance to shine. Each team member individually contributed her own unique gifts and leadership flowed throughout the herd and was generously offered to the client.

Collectively, we became resilient, showing up when leading and resting when the opportunity arose.  In varying moments each of us was the high achiever, the gentle sentinel and the resting foal. This dance of stepping forward and stepping back from the leadership role enriched the experience we were able to offer clients and demonstrated a model of shared leadership and rejuvenation.

Nature is resilient, self-regulating and agile. Shared leadership is sustainable, and through it we, and our clients thrive.

Turning such insights into action is my key role as a coach and mentor. I’m constantly reminding my clients that leadership doesn’t rest in a position. Leadership does not come from a title. Leadership isn’t competitive. To lead is a verb. It’s not something you’re born with.

It’s a skill set you develop. It’s not hypothetical or theoretical. It’s something you practice.

So how can you practice this fluid dance of shared leadership? When you join a herd – an organisation, a project – or when you create one, how do you stay on focussed on the mission? How does this fluid dance of stepping forward and stepping back differ from the ego dance that says, “see me!” and “am I good enough?”

More answers

Imagine if that mare tried to ‘push through’ when the birth experience had drained her? She and her foal would have been more vulnerable. Imagine if I had felt insecure that my client may see my partners as better than me? It seems wasteful to hire a team of rock stars if my ego prevents me from giving them space to demonstrate their excellence.

Again, the mare showed me the answer. The answer is to trust. You may ask how do I practice building trust? Try this exercise. Start with yourself and two simple question prompts: How do I feel? What do I need? Then assess your resources and give yourself what you need. Each time you ask and attend to those two questions, you build trust in yourself. Expect to repeat this exercise many times in a day. Set an alarm to help you develop the habit.

Now if you are anything like my clients, you may be saying right now: “I feel exhausted; I need a vacation.” In that case I invite you to stay with the questions a little longer and expand your perspective of time. You may discover more answers.

  • I feel exhausted and I need three deep breaths all the way down to my belly to come back to my body, my senses and this moment.
  • I feel exhausted and I need five minutes of stillness and silence.
  • I feel exhausted and I need to move from this spot or walk for a few minutes.
  • I feel exhausted and I need to leave this event.

Each of these mini-rejuvenations adds to your resources of resilience incrementally and more importantly it teaches you to trust yourself. It teaches you that someone is paying attention to your needs, taking care and leading your experience from moment to moment.

Trusting yourself to lead your experience gives you stability and allows you to be present. In this calm, embodied presence, creativity is born. Solutions you couldn’t see in your hyper-focussed, vigilant state slide gently into your view. You realise that you can trust the process you’re in and that you have resources available.

Leadership can flow through a group. This makes it more sustainable for the whole group. Trusting yourself gives you confidence and feels empowering. From that empowered state, you are able to trust others.

Shared leadership begins to look fabulous to you, just as it did to that beautiful horse on the day she became a new mother.

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