We can learn much from horses about teamwork and leadership in business. In our workshops with horses, we share a leadership model that the horses use to create cohesive teamwork. It involves three positions of leadership and we will explore Leading from the front in more detail in this post.
Many of our clients have found this leadership model to be enlightening and have embraced and implemented it into their business with substantial success. The model is based on building relationships rather than a more traditional command and control style of leadership which does not engage and inspire employees. The success of the team is dependent on every team member taking responsibility for leadership and changing their position within the team according to what they believe is needed in each moment.
The model we use is adapted from a model developed by Klaus Ferdinand Hempfling. He observed that there are three different leadership roles in a herd of horses:
- Leading from the front where the leader sets the pace, destination and direction
- Leading from the side where leaders coach each other in a democratic leadership style and ensure everyone is moving forward together in the same direction
- Leading from behind which has a check and balance style of leadership and drives the team forward to maintain momentum
Each member of the team is leading at different moments, and all are essential to the success of the team.
It might seem obvious that dragging or shoving half a ton of horse is impossible yet many employees feel as though they are on the receiving end of this behaviour in the workplace. When we work with horses, we are always working at a fine-tuning level of leadership to maximise leaders’ effectiveness so we reduce coercion and passivity and help leaders find that knife-edge of assertiveness when they are leading out of the comfort zone. Asa result, they improve their ability to flex and adapt to what is needed in any given situation and are able to inspire their teams much more easily.
In this post, I share an extract from my book Leadership Beyond Measure which explores leading from the front in more detail.
Leading from the front
The alpha mare is the most dominant member of the herd and leads from the front. Her role is to set the pace, direction and destination. Since horses are a prey animal, they are on the alert for danger. Imagine a pack of wild dogs appears, the alpha mare will decide where the herd go, how they get there and how fast they go.
If the dogs are close by, she will set off at a gallop. If they are further away, she will set off at a walk. She will go as fast as is necessary to keep the herd safe. This way, the herd conserve their energy for when it is most needed. Many people in business are going at three hundred miles per hour constantly. That is exhausting, and more balance is essential to prevent burn-out and work-related stress.
In a workplace setting, the leader of the company and each team and department usually lead from the front. For example, the MD or CEO will set the strategy and vision for a company. A Project Manager defines clear goals and objectives for his project team. A leader of a team translates the vision and goals so everyone on their team has clear expectations. Everyone at some point will need to lead from the front.
If nobody takes the lead from the front or the vision and direction are not clear enough, the team gets diverted and disperses. This can ultimately lead to conflict in the team and causes increased workload as the team become ineffective. If you’ve ever sat in a meeting and listened to a discussion go round and round without a decision, you’ve experienced what happens when nobody is leading from the front.
And if you’ve ever sat in a meeting where everyone talks over the top of each other, then you’ve experienced what happens when everyone is trying to lead from the front!
One of the challenges of leading from the front is you can get so far ahead that you lose the team. It is essential to keep checking that all team members are coming with you and understand where they are going. A common mistake in organisations is to believe that the strategy and vision have been clearly communicated when they have not. If the team is not doing what you want them to do, the destination, pace and direction need to be clearer.
When leading from the front, the focus is in the direction you are heading. If you keep turning round and looking back, you create a stop/start behaviour in your team. It indicates doubt, a lack of self-belief and self-confidence. Leading from the front requires enormous trust in yourself and the team and a belief that people will execute the strategy you have set. Be purposeful, focused, committed and clear about where you are heading or the team may stall.
In today’s business environments of rapid transformation and change, leading from the front is critical to providing the clarity and vision that employees need in order to drive the business forward.
How clear is the vision in your business and team?
Next month, I’ll explore Leading from behind and how it is critical to drive the team forward in line with the vision and pace that has been articulated.
Jude Jennison is an international speaker, author and Horse Assisted Educator with a 16 year senior leadership career in a global IT organisation, where she led UK, European and global teams.
Jude helps senior leaders and executive teams develop embodied leadership skills that create tangible business results. By receiving a horse’s non-judgemental feedback, any leader can identify their leadership behaviours and transform themselves into a courageous and hugely influential non-verbal communicator.
For more information on our leadership development programmes,
contact us on 0800 170 1810 or visit our website www.theleadershipwhisperers.com