Leadership Secret Whispered by Horses – It’s Not Just What You Ask, But Also When
Leadership Secret Whispered by Horses – It’s Not Just What You Ask, But Also When . The task our clinic instructor wanted was to ask our horses to back up, then turn a quarter turn on the hind end. A well executed quarter turn to the right would mean that my horse would rock back and plant his right hind foot, and I would ask him to move his front feet only to the right. If we had been backing up facing north, we’d end up facing east. I knew the right cues: left supporting rein, right direct rein, left foot forward with a little pressure, and right foot off the horse. Leadership Secret Whispered by Horses – It’s Not Just What You Ask, But Also When.
But it wasn’t quite working. Sometimes Cody would step over nicely, and sometimes not. Sometime Cody would keep his weight on his front end and swing his hind end over. Rather than being crisp and clean, we would stumble through the turn. I knew enough that Cody was trying to do what I wanted, but he couldn’t because I was not asking correctly. It seemed like I was asking the same thing each time, but I was getting different results.
When I expressed my bewilderment to the clinic instructor, she watched Cody and me a couple of times. She asked me to dismount. “Stand with your weight evenly distributed over both feet,” she asked. “Now, change your weight so that most of it is on your right foot.” I dutifully complied. Leadership Secret Whispered by Horses – It’s Not Just What You Ask, But Also When.
“Lift your right foot.”
I had a choice. I could either not comply with the request or shift my weight off my right leg.
“What you are doing with Cody is sometimes asking him to lift his feet to the right when all of his weight is on it. You are asking with the right cues. You are just asking at the wrong time. Ask him to step over to the right just before his right foot leaves the ground.”
I had not been paying enough attention to Cody’s feet when I asked him to step over. If I asked when his weight was on his hind feet, his front feet would step over lightly. But, if I asked him to move his front feet when it was impossible to do so, he would move his hind feet. He knew what I wanted, but he could not comply. And the quarter turn looked and felt ugly because I asked for a front end move and all he could move was his back end.
When I started paying attention to Cody’s feet and I asked at the right time, we got near perfect turns each time.
A good leader knows not only what to ask of his followers, but when he should ask. A good coach knows when his team is getting tired and worn down. He knows that if he pushes too hard at the wrong time, his team will resent him. On the other hand, that same coach knows when it’s time to push his team a harder than they want so that they perform beyond what they expect they can do. If a boss asked an employee to take on a big, important project two days ago, it may not be a good time to ask him to take on another top project. He won’t know if he should shift his weight to the other foot or ignore your request. Worse, the boss will lose leadership points in the eyes of the employee. “Can’t he see I’m already busy here? Which most important project is most important?”
You don’t have to have a horse to learn how horsemanship will help you be a better leader. Let me share my life lessons I learned while astride my horse.