Tag Archives: coercion

What my horse whispered today: Trust, connection and right brained leadership

“Earn trust, earn trust, earn trust. Then you can worry about the rest.”

Seth Godin

Trust and connection are the bedrock that successful leadership is built upon. Whether you are working with humans or horses, the strength of the relationship depends on the level of trust and connection between the leader and follower. Horses and humans have similar responses to their leaders. When there is a high degree of trust and connection, they are willingly to reach beyond any preconceived limits and accomplish feats beyond their imagination. There is a direct correlation: the higher their trust levels the more willingness to follow.

Without trust, horses and humans respond with either coerced compliance or defiance. Fear and disconnection dominate relationships not built on trust and connection. Force and coercion automatically trigger fight or flight responses in our brains. Humans rebel and/or shut down. Horses resist and bolt.

Over the years, I’ve observed that the most effective leadership approach (for horses or humans) involves the leader relying on both their emotional intelligence (EI) and mind-body-soul connection. This approach is highly effective because the leaders trust in themselves allows their creativity; intuition and ability to accurately read others emotions leads them to solutions. With their emotional brain in the lead, the leader creates an invitation for follower to be open and cooperative. Their relationship thrives on their mutually trusting connection.

Before we learn language and express ourselves with words, humans live in their right brain hemisphere. Once humans acquire language their left-brain hemisphere begins to dominate their interpretation of the world. Horses, as prey animals, exist in a non-verbal, right brain world. Equine facilitated coaching creates a setting where horses teach humans how to shift from their dominant, language dependent left-brain. The strength of the horse-human connection depends on how well humans are able to shift to their right brain and communicate their requests wordlessly.

I asked my client, Tim, to walk a horse through a simple L shaped obstacle. He naturally went to his left-brain and used a direct, forceful approach. He started pushing and shoving on the horse’s neck, trying to get it to move in the direction of the obstacle. Naturally, the horse resisted. Tim began talking to the horse, telling it how good and beautiful it was. The horse didn’t move. Tim kept trying to shove the 1200-pound animal in a direction it didn’t want to go. His efforts were futile and exhausting.

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Tim relaxed and stood by the horse, facing the direction he wanted to go. Together, they slowly walked through the L shaped poles and completed the task. Forcing his demands (left brain) created resistance. By calming down and shifting to his emotional brain (right brain), Tim silently restored his connection to the horse. The horse willingly went in direction Tim wanted to go.

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A positive, willing relationship with their leadership, horses or humans, depends on the human’s ability to lead from their emotional and intuitive (right brain). In this example, the horse resisted force but when both the human and the horse made an emotional connection, they willingly responded to each other.

Working with prey animals, you rely on a right brain hemisphere approach. However, humans, unlike horses, have both predator and prey characteristics.

Human prey- like responses are typified by; passive aggressive behaviors, such as being slow to provide answers or do work, agreeing but never acting on their promises. As we do with horses, the leader uses a right-brained approach and gently, consistently applies pressure. For both horses and humans, their natural response is to move away from or avoid the pressure, toward another direction. It takes less effort to move away from the pressure than to push against it (the leadership). The leader creates an uncomfortable situation that’s difficult to avoid. As the person/group moves toward the desired goal, the pressure is released. Applying consistent pressure (timelines and restricted access to pleasurable experiences) results in a series of very small positive changes. For example: “Before you go out and play, you need to clean up your bedroom. I’ll set a timer. In the next 15 minutes, please pick up all of your socks off the floor and put them in the washer.” The leader sets small goals until all the items are picked up. Small requests, achievable steps and consistent pressure complete the task much faster.

When horses or humans are asked to make a change or face a challenge, resistance often follows. Our reactions reflect our level of trust in our leader. The less we trust the leadership, the greater our resistance. Left-brained leadership depends on compliance using force and coercion to get results. The external changes are maintained as long as force is greater than the resistance. Right-brained leadership uses resistance as an opportunity for deepening trust between the leader and her followers. The connection and trust of the leader encourages an internal shift and willingness usually follows. When our trust in the leadership is greater than our resistance to change, we move forward.

What’s true for horses is true for humans; “You can never rely on a horse that is educated by fear. There will always be something that he fears more than you. But, when he trusts you, he will ask you what to do when he is afraid.” Antoinede Pluvinel.