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  • Writer's pictureGinny Telego

Leaders Who Aren’t Afraid of the “V” Word

A leadership development webinar I signed up for (purely out of curiosity) offered as an outcome of the session that I will learn “What leaders need to do to create purpose, connection, and energy to move forward.”

In the spirit of authenticity – something my equine team members demand of me all the time – my first reaction to this was “What? How in the world are you going to teach those things in a webinar or conference room?”

I get it – this is the language of leadership development programs trying to invite leaders into learning how to have better relationships with their team members and be able to move the organization through uncertainty.  I’m completely on board with that goal.  Unfortunately, a lifetime working with horses and 10 years of facilitating experiential leadership and team development has taught me that learning to regulate our energy and connect with others in a genuine way is not something that can be learned online or sitting in a conference room.

The reason? It is very difficult to get unbiased feedback from other people about how we are showing up energetically in our interactions with them.  This isn’t woo-woo Kum bye yah stuff – this is real human behavior that has been researched for years.  Our brains are filled with implicit bias about people which prevents us from giving and receiving feedback in a way that is completely without bias – no matter how much we try. We also have a propensity to not consider all of the information coming to us through our senses because that uses a huge amount of energy so our brains “filter” incoming information to make it more manageable.  And our brain sorts through information coming in based on our previous experiences as well as our beliefs, perceptions, and assumptions.

But the even bigger hurdle in this is that to regulate our energy with people and truly connect, both parties have to be vulnerable.  Yup – the “V” word.

When people are working with horses in experiential programs, they are getting immediate, unfiltered feedback from the horses about their energy and their willingness to let go and be in a connected relationship with the horse.  It’s vulnerable and it’s freaking hard.  Every “what if” conversation you can come up with presents itself, but the main one is “What if the horse doesn’t come with me?” “What if the horse finds out I’m not as confident in my leadership as I portray?” That fear is strong even with super-successful leaders.  And that fear prevents us from being willing to let our guard down and show our true selves at that moment because that means we become vulnerable to the fear of “What if the horse thinks I’m weak?”  As long as the fear of “What if” persists, connection and regulating our energy can’t happen.

You see, connection and energy are things that we embody.  They aren’t tools or techniques.  They are genuine, physical feelings in our bodies that we have ignored for hundreds of years in leadership because somewhere along the line, a narrative was promoted that only our brains were able to provide useful information.  It wasn’t until about 20 years ago that some “rogue” researchers in the cognitive science field began studying how information from the physical body can influence our decisions and interactions as much as the brain – it’s called cognitive embodiment.

If leaders truly want to understand how to create a connection with their team and learn to manage their energy to influence direction, they have to start with being willing to be vulnerable.  In a short article in Fast Company, author Lindsay Lavine notes that leaders who are willing to be vulnerable with their team show that they are human, can set the tone for creating a culture of empathy, and provide an “opportunity for joint problem-solving.”  In a word, it creates trust.  Brene Brown’s work on vulnerability – particularly in leadership – points the way, and horses can walk alongside us to become the leaders that our world needs right now.

Ginny Telego is the President and Chief Facilitator at The Collaboration Partners, a consulting firm that focuses on partnering with horses to offer experiential leadership and team development.  A life-long horse addict, she is passionate about helping people become courageous leaders and learn from the wisdom of the herd.

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