Can horses teach you leadership?
Goutam Das January 28, 2019
Starworld is a good follower but he doesn't like to be delegated. Vijay likes to be delegated but isn't a good follower. Starworld and Vijay are both horses and they could induce some 'horse quotient' in corporate leaders-make them self-reflect, sharpen delegation skills, teach them to adapt the new, and how to lead by example.
A leadership training company in Chennai, HQ Leadership India, is working with automobile manufacturers such as BMW and Daimler and IT services companies to train people through horses, sensitive animals that mirror the personality of the human.
To understand how a horse makes sense, Business Today spoke to Isabelle Hasleder, founder of the company. She is from Austria and is living in India for over a decade. Why not dogs, man's best friend?
"You cannot do leadership with dogs," Hasleder says. "Dogs are hunters while horses are prey. They are flight animals. When they are attacked, they run away."
Because horses are prey animals, they tend to be super sensitive to everything that surrounds them. They pick up the tension in the air. "If they feel there is a strong leader-either another horse or a human-they feel protected and follow. They are either walking by your side or walking behind you. The dog tends to walk in the front," Hasleder says.
While dogs connect with owners very strongly, the horse mostly responds to signals. "While a horse can be trained to do different things, we keep the horses natural. Just like humans, every horse is different. They have different characteristics. The corporate leaders learn that they have to adapt their leadership style to the situation at hand; they have to analyse the horse and what it likes," she adds.
Hasleder conducts two-day workshops in Chennai, Bangalore and Mumbai where CXOs are thrown into the ring without much training on how to handle or communicate with the horses. They are given a short briefing on basics, such as not to approach a horse from behind because they can kick. The leaders are next asked to delegate a task to the horse-often they have to tell the horse to run two rounds.
"The person is supposed to step in like the CEO of the space and the team is the horse. You can use any body language to tell the horse to run. You can talk to the horse, shout, whatever you like," says Hasleder. "If you step in like the CEO, the horse recognises this person is a leader. But if you step in as a shy person, not very confident, have a slouchy position, or voice that is not very clear, the horse mirrors that and becomes less confident. You may not get the outcome."
The sessions are video recorded and analysed. The next exercises are about improving by doing; on team work, on situational leadership. For instance, a leader can be asked to sit on a horse but another workshop participant is told to lead the horse. In this case, the leader has to trust both the co-worker and the horse.
"When it comes to training senior level managers it is always difficult to tell them something new because these people have a lot of experience," says Hasleder. "However, they may not have touched a horse before. They are outside their comfort zone. When we do the exercises, many of them connect really fast. The horses give you instant feedback."