Can you lead a horse to water?


Would you like to gain a deeper insight into your leadership style? If so, whose opinion do you value? Who sees you for who you really are?

A few years ago I asked myself exactly those questions.

I decided to ask a horse..

Show me your horse and I’ll tell you who you are.

English Proverb

Horses can be powerful teachers.

The magic of getting feedback from horses, is that they don’t measure your leadership on elaborate vocabulary or carefully crafted messages. They are attuned to whether you are fully present, rather than well presented. Horses respond to authentic leadership, not title or professional status and therefore the lessons they offer can be powerful and revealing. If you don’t lead, they don’t follow!

You may not be leading horses in the day job, but here are 3 lessons that I learnt on my training day with horses that continue to guide my leadership today.

Lesson 1 – Have a purpose

There is no leadership without direction. You can’t lead a horse to water if you don’t know what water is or how to find it. Horses can sense whether you know what you are here to achieve, even if it is just to walk once around the field. If you are not quite sure where you are going, why would anyone follow?

As a person do you not expect the same from your leaders?

As the leader, you need a vision that you believe in; purpose. Following you, needs to be more compelling than staying still or turning to go another way.

Ask yourself;

  • Do I have a purpose?
  • Is that purpose clear in my own mind?
  • Am I fully focused on it in the presence of those I am leading?

Lesson 2 – Align your communication

When working with horses, no amount of verbal acrobatics is going to get you from A to B.

Horses are excellent at picking up on what you don’t say; your tone and your body language. If you are sending mixed messages, how can your message really be trusted? How can YOU really be trusted?

If you’ve been told to fake it until you make it, good luck! If you try to fake it around horses they just dig their hooves in and leave you tugging on the reins. Dragging a horse along is not humane, and it’s also pretty ineffective.

Ask yourself;

  • Who am I dragging along with me as a leader?
  • What messages am I sending that might not be aligned?
  • Can I be trusted?

And just in case you ask, yes, you can lead in a meaningful way and with conviction even if you need to tow the company line!

Lesson 3 – Don’t abort or abandon, adapt

Leadership is all about consequences, and I don’t mean – ‘follow me or there’ll be trouble!’

If you give an instruction or move in a specific direction, you should be expecting an outcome; for the horse to come with you. The horse has no agenda; it’s not after your job, or worried about meeting conflicting deadlines. If the horse is not walking, there is nothing wrong with the horse. You are not leading. You need to adapt your approach.

If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.

Henry Ford

Check back on Lesson 1 and 2 and then try something different. Not every horse, or person for that matter, is the same. Personality certainly comes into it. Some people just need more time or more information.

Ask yourself;

  • What effect is my leadership approach having?
  • What could I do differently to demonstrate my commitment to my goal?


Being willing to try new things will to not just give you a better result today, it will also make you more comfortable with adapting your style for the future, making the experience more positive for everyone.

What other unusual leadership teachings have you come across? I’d love to hear about them.









Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s