A three part series about leadership: Leading your life; Leading others; Sustaining leadership
Horses are wonderful leadership teachers. They instinctively know the survival of the herd depends on their trust and connection to the lead mare. Imagine a herd of wild horses grazing in a field. On the perimeter the lead mare patrols and alerts the herd when it’s time to move on. All of the horses within the herd have one ear pointed toward their lead mare at all times. Each horse is aware of the slightest changes; a flick of the ear, muscle twitches or shifts in the wind. Without the lead mare’s ability to lead them away from danger and toward water and new pastures the herd would perish.
Like horses, humans willingly follow leadership when they trust and have an emotional connection to the leader. Leaders and their followers have an Internal Guidance System (IGS) that functions like their inner lead mare. Our survival, individually and as a group, depends on attending to our IGS. The more we nurture our mind-body-intuition connection (our vulnerable sensitivity that immediately responds to truth) and listen its internal signals the stronger our IGS becomes. To do this, we must learn to regulate our emotions and feed our spiritual life. We can rely on our IGS to give us clarity in confusing situations, help us refocus and lead us in the direction of our best life.
Neglecting our IGS by substituting other’s opinions and allowing our immediate, reactive emotions guide our decisions ultimately blur’s and disables our ability to make sustained, positive changes in our lives. Internally, we become a herd without their lead mare. Not listening to your internal IGS is like a herd disregarding the signals from their lead mare.
Racing thoughts, anger, holding onto past regrets prevents your IGS from functioning properly. Relying only on emotions and rehearsing the old painful stories feed the distorted beliefs about the self and sabotage the IGS. Your emotions take the lead and cause you to wander around, questioning everything, unable to focus or recognize real threats.
I was conducting an Equus workshop with a group from an addiction recovery center. I asked each participant to guide a horse through a simple obstacle course. One of the women had been walking side by side with the horse, moving it forward, her eyes focused on the barrel at the end of the course. The horse hesitated. She got confused, stopped, then turned and faced the horse. The horse responded to her confusion by refusing to move.
Me: What’s happening right now?
Woman: “Well the horse stopped and I’m trying to get it to move forward.”
She and the horse stood still facing each other for about four minutes.
Me: “Where do you want to go?
Photo by Sheri Wirt Photography
Woman: “I want to get to the end of the obstacle course but this stupid horse won’t move!”
Me: “ Your horse isn’t stupid. You are asking her to move forward but where are your eyes and body and facing?”
She laughed as she realized that she was physically facing in the opposite direction of where she wanted to go; where she began instead of the finish line.
Me: ” You need to look in the direction you want the horse to go. You are facing where you’ve already been, not where you want to end up. You want to move forward but keep looking back to where you’ve been instead of where you want to end up.”
Woman: Bursting into tears, “That’s why I can’t kick this drug habit, I keep looking in the wrong direction. All I see is my past failure. I’m not moving toward recovery.”
Then she stopped, calmed down, refocused. She turned around, faced the end of the course and walked the horse finish line.
There are similarities between leading horses and leading ourselves toward our best lives. Where we focus determines our next steps. If we, or those in leadership, disconnect from our IGS letting shame and failures dominate, focusing on the past, our sense of direction is lost. We are leaderless.
Individually or we are in the role of parent, teacher, therapist or equestrian, our connection and response to our physical, emotional and intuitive signals determines the effectiveness of our leadership, personally and with others.. Disconnecting from your IGS disables your ability to connect with or lead anyone else
I teach my clients how to connect to their intuitive self by developing their IGS using the three core practices of personal leadership.
- Examine your personal truth: Are your passions, values, emotions and actions are aligned? As I asked my client, “Are you focused in the direction you want to go? “Focusing on the past, keeps you in the past. Moving forward takes all of your energy, focused in the direction you want to go.
- Listen to your heart: Your heart is that part of you that immediately recognizes the truth. Have a clear focus for the day. What do you want to create and how you want to feel at the end of the day? Ask yourself what truths are your emotions and body telling you, right now?
- Stay Present: Adjust your actions and thoughts according to the needs of the moment: Your body (not your judgmental, critical, worried mind) is your most trustworthy guide. Be like a horse- a prey animal. Without engaging your analytical mind, the vulnerable part of you becomes more responsive to what is happening in the moment. Connect and trust your physical/emotional responses to direct your next steps. The feeling of lightness and freedom says, “Go.” Constriction and heavy, hesitant feelings say, “Stop, wait, look, reconsider.” Trust yourself and adjust your actions accordingly.
As the herd depends on their lead mare, depend on your IGS for daily guidance. Aligning your responses and decisions with this internal system will reconnect you with your inner leader who will protect and move you forward.