One of the best business coaches I’ve ever had has four legs, a mane and a tail. I don’t mean this in any way as an insult to the numerous brilliant and insightful human coaches I’ve worked with over the years, but the truth is, some of the best business lessons I’ve received did not happen in an office or a board room, but instead in a worn leather saddle atop my mare.
See, the thing about horses is, they are extremely honest and perceptive. As prey animals they’re always on alert for danger, and they pick up on the subtlest signals. As prey animals they are also looking for leadership from their humans but if they don’t believe you are being a good leader they’ll take over as a means to self-preservation.
The other thing is, the most rewarding way to work with horses, like many things in life, is through partnership, a delicate balance of give and take. Can you be a leader and a collaborative partner at the same time? I believe so.
How does all of this relate to business management? Here is what Sunny and her friends have taught me over the years:
- Energy Games
Although we may not be as good at it as horses are, we still pick up on nervous, angry and negative energy. So before stepping into potentially confrontational meeting, or taking to the podium at a speaking event, pause for a moment and take stock. Breathe and set an intention for a positive outcome because your expectations matter. Instead of anticipating an unpleasant exchange taking place, close your eyes and imagine that you emit light and love, and bathe your counterpart in it. This approach can be very disarming to the other party, especially if they too were expecting an unpleasant encounter.
- Motivation Matters
Just like people, horses have different personalities and they have different motivations for wanting to work with you. My horse, for example, is motivated most by two things: rest and food. She will work hard for both of these things, but I have to remember to let her have them at the appropriate times. Other horses care less about food and prefer play as a reward, while others have a strong desire for safety and security. What are your employees motivated by, and how can you build those things into the culture of your company to help your team want to work with you instead of just for you?
- Be Flexible
The best-laid plans don’t always work that way: If there is one thing my horse has taught me, it’s flexibility. I have a very busy schedule and usually only make it to the barn two or three times a week, sometimes less than that. Because I have limited time, I will often come prepared with a clear idea of what I want to work on that day. But a horse isn’t a motorcycle or a car – she is another living, breathing being, and sometimes she has opinions or issues that have to be dealt with. I believe it’s not about having a perfect ride on any given day; it’s about building a great foundation for tomorrow’s ride. Sometimes with horses and with people you have to pause, take a moment to say, “How interesting,” and adjust your plans to fit what’s really going on at the moment, keeping in mind that taking the time to coach or teach an employee, or even to listen, is okay because it’s about building a better tomorrow.
- Be Receptive to Collaboration
A partnership is a two-way street, and on some level don’t we want our employees – or our horses – to be willing participants in the game? Sometimes your horse may have interesting ideas: Some of the most fun I’ve ever had with my horse is when I’ve given her the opportunity to show me what’s she is thinking. You don’t always have to feed your employees answers or make them do things your way. Remember to ask for suggestions, ideas, thoughts… and if you’re willing to be open and listen you might just be delighted to find a new way of tackling a problem, or a real diamond in the rough, one that can be polished and turned into a profit center for your business.
- It’s Supposed to be Fun
Don’t take yourself too seriously: You will have a much better experience, either as a competitive rider – or a successful businessperson – if you approach the task at hand with joy and curiosity. Life is short and we spend too much time at work to not have some fun with it. And it’s fun to grow, succeed, and push outside of your comfort zone… Prepare, show up, try new things, regroup as necessary and repeat.
This article first appeared in the Huffington Post.
Elin Barton is a graduate of the Goldman Sachs 10KSB program, enjoys speaking engagements and is the CEO and President of White Knight Productions, Inc. White Knight Productions is a boutique agency providing full-service video, advertising and marketing. The firm specializes in multi-channel campaigns that tell the clients’ stories and resonate with their customers in a results-driven way. Elin enjoys her horse and hanging out in the horse barn. She uses the Parelli method, which is a natural method for training horses. Elin would love to hear from readers firstname.lastname@example.org