Somehow I have managed to become enrolled in one of the most intensive IT leadership training of my career and the instructor is a wild horse. So as you might imagine, this a very organic program with no formal curriculum. The lessons in effective leadership are taught through an immersion by my instructor’s own unorthodox leadership style that involves kicking and snorting.
The Wild Horse
Without going into all the details last spring six horses got out of their pasture and found their way down to my place. Five were rounded up and returned but the one yearling who has never been trained or briddled has remained free ever since. With winter approaching I thought it was time to try and get it to a good home. Or at a minimum ensure it had access to food and water through the winter.
Having never owned a horse I can safely safe I am no horse whisperer. Heck, everything I know about natural horsemanship comes from RFDTV and Google. What I do know about catching a wild horse is the central theme is to motivate the horse with the least amount of force. And that comes from building trust.
Lessons in Effective Leadership Begin
So armed with the confidence that can only come from ignorance I put on my Carhartts and an ugly old trooper hat with ear flaps and headed up the waterway. My only plan was to study and listen to the horse’s natural behaviors and hope the rest of the plan would reveal itself.
Leadership Lesson #1: Sometimes committing to action is the only plan you need and looks probably won’t matter.
It was easy to allow the horses curiosity to bring it close even in the middle of an alfalfa field. You could see the horse gain confidence with each sequence of pressure and release. That confidence became the basis for trust and the horse accepting my leadership as it followed me around the field.
Leadership Lesson #2: Real leadership comes from relationships that are based on trust not from this year’s hot book on proven leadership characteristics.
It was now time to see if I could lead the horse back to my barn so it could find food and water through the winter if it took that long. So I headed out again this time with a feed bucket and few cups of cherry flavored sweet grain I met the horse in the field. The horse eventually accepted the bucket, sampled the grain and followed me with confidence over to the barn where it finished the grain and started on the fresh hay.
Leadership Lesson #3: Effective leadership sometimes means offering a reward. This could also be the lesson of if you feed them they will come. Just to be sure to get the cherry flavored stuff.
Progress was quick. Each day going out to meet the wild horse that now would come to meet me half way even when called. And the routine grow from there. Going out early each morning after emails and again in late afternoon. After finishing the grain the horse grazes around the barn now that the snow has melted and we continue to build trust as I study the horses behavior through the ‘gentling’ process.
Leadership Lesson #4: Establishing routines and a comfortable pace for progress are important when people are counting on you.
The horse and I are enjoying temperatures in the uppers 30’s. The horse will now smell and investigate my hand with its nose. I have also been able to hand feed it carrots. This has all lead up to the horse now going into the barn for its grain and water. But these are new experiences for the horse requiring more confidence for it and leadership skills like patience from me.
Leadership Lesson #5: Effective leadership includes releasing your management perspective in order to understand others.
Then this morning I found the horse down the valley about a mile or so by the pond instead near the barn. After introductions it followed me back and dove right in to its treats.
Leadership Lesson #6: Even with effective leadership and consistent management routines there will always be setbacks.
So now we will continue with feeding and a little human companionship to help with the ‘gentling’ while we wait for the Humane Society to work through its process. Then I will turn my attention to helping them find a new home for the horse.
Leadership Lesson #7: Sometimes you need to bring in the professionals with the specialized leadership skills to help with the more difficult stuff.
Footnote: Consider a Christmas gift of support to your local Human Society.
Update 12/24/2011: With the help of Irven Yutsy, a local Amish horse trainer, the horse went into the barn then loaded itself into an awaiting horse trailer with the encouragement of one of Irven’s horses. It took us about 2 hours in the morning and the horse was just fine. Now it will begin training to be a buggy horse for Irven’s family.