Michele Waterman
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Lessons in Leadership

I attended a unique leadership retreat with horses last week. Watching people interact with these majestic creatures was simply magical. What I noticed was that horses respect and respond to honesty. They do not tolerate bullshit. They genuinely want to connect with those willing to be genuine. 

Most of the people at the retreat had never been around horses. To set the scene, there was one horse in a round pen and each person, one by one, got a chance to interact with the horse on their terms. As the day went on, a theme emerged: people were afraid of doing it wrong. People were also worried about how they were "supposed" to be connecting with the horse" vs tapping into the experience they wanted to have with the horse. 

The retreat facilitators stood outside to pen to ensure their safety, to answer questions, and to offer support. They were watching both the horse and the participant, reading body language, and looking for ways to add value with their feedback. They asked empowering questions that opened possibilities for meaningful connections with the horse, which allowed for deep personal discovery in many cases. As the first day came to a close, the first lesson in leadership emerged as the importance of being real and letting our true selves be seen. The horses were like mirrors, reflecting the beauty of the participants’ truth. 

The next day was spent in a large indoor arena with the group, doing team-building activities with the horses. I was inspired by the courage that every person demonstrated, as they interacted with horses that were every bit of 1300 pounds. And as I watched them thunder across the ground, I was struck by the realization that vulnerability and power can coexist. 

It's pretty obvious how horses are powerful considering their size, but they are extremely vulnerable as prey animals. So what other qualities make horses powerful? I noticed that they are phenomenal communicators that know how to set boundaries and give feedback. They trust their instincts, using their keen senses and their acute awareness of their environment to make decisions. They are innately fantastic at owning their responsibility to take care of their needs, while accepting support from their community--being a part of the herd is part of their survival. 

I learned so much about leadership watching the horses and participants work and play. The truth is that leadership starts with you and me. The horses, like effective leaders, are not only solid communicators that give feedback and set boundaries but they also show up real, honest, adaptable, and willing to contribute their skills and resources. Horses like a great leaders, can inspire others without saying a word and can motivate simply by modeling the courage it takes to be vulnerable and authentic. And as I watched the individual horses interact as a herd, it reminded me that leaders attend to the delicate balance between nurturing their individuality and honoring their own voice, while accepting the importance of being connected--collaborating toward a common vision--whether it be at home, at work, or in our communities. 

When do you allow yourself to be vulnerable? How do show up and let yourself be seen? How do you attend to your own voice, while nurturing your connections with others?

To learn more about how personal development coaching can help you tap into your authenticity, visit www.michelewaterman.com.

To learn more about the leadership retreat that I described above and the transformative work with horses, contact The Circle Up Experience at www.thecircleupexperience.com.