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  • Writer's pictureGinny Telego

A Leader’s Journey to Self-Awareness

By Ginny Telego

In developing our equine assisted professional development programs, my colleague and I regularly read books, blogs and research studies to stay abreast of current trends in workforce development. Most of what we read about leadership and team development focuses on building trust, being transparent in communication and an ability to adapt to an ever-changing global economic environment. These seem like common sense traits for leaders and successful team members to possess and yet professional development programs continue to try and find ways to teach and enhance these skills.

So what makes these skills elusive? As we work with participants in our program, there are some common challenges that are reflected in the responses of the horses during activities.

Communication. This is one of the biggest barriers to effective leadership and successful teams. We all think we are communicating information effectively, but team performance often reflects otherwise. If your vision isn’t being implemented, check in with your team on whether they are understanding what you need and expect from them.

Adaptability. A participant in one of our leadership development workshops had the following revelation at the end of the day – “Just because it’s not my way doesn’t mean it’s the wrong way.” For him, this was a moment of self-awareness as he had stated at the start of the day that one of his challenges was managing different personalities. In reality his challenge was managing team members who approached projects from a different perspective – this awareness of his need to adapt to his team helped him lead more effectively.

Trust. Horses are clear about whether they trust you or not. Without genuine trust, the horse will choose to not engage in being part of a team. Horses are also very adept at picking up inconsistencies in our intentions. Using fear to lead does not gain trust and given the option of whether to follow or not, team members who are fearful will find ways to disengage from the team.

All of these challenges can be overcome through increased self-awareness. Emotional intelligence has become a popular tool in leadership development and gaining self-awareness is a primary path to becoming a more effective leader. The journey to self-awareness is not easy — it takes an ability to look in the mirror and a willingness to see your true self. But I’ve watched clients take this journey with the horses and the willingness of the horses to allow clients to explore and practice better ways to lead makes the journey more palatable.

Where will your journey start?

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