Can you lead a horse to water?

Natural Horsemanship Demo

I came across a website offering a leadership seminar based on horse whispering.  That looked interesting to me – I like horses.

I gather horse whispering is more about listening than whispering.

The professional horse men and women who practice this skill understand how to read the body language of horses and have usually spent many years studying the psychology of the horse.  I gather nervous horses learn that it is often a wise move to stand still near a ‘safe person’, than attempt to run away from a dreaded situation.  It is all about winning trust!

To gain a horse’s confidence you need to learn when to be still and quiet and just leave things to the horse. They sense the underlying state of mind of a person, so it is impossible to bluff a horse.

Yes, I can recognise this and how horse whispering could teach us something as leaders!

Leadership isn’t about shouting the message to get your vision across.  Yes, you do need to communicate it frequently and clearly.  But it is as much about listening to the responses you get back from your people, as telling them;

  • What signs do you have that the vision in your head matches the one in theirs?
  • Have you listened to their reservations?
  • Have you got answers to the questions they ask?
  • What can you learn from your most valued asset, your own team?
  • What is their body language telling you.
  • Yes, they are telling you they are enthusiastic but does the body language match the words?

As for the nervous horses, well, when faced with significant change we all get nervous!

Horses are prepared stand near a safe person they trust when they are nervous.  Do your team have enough trust to stand with you as you go through your major change?

I hope you don’t try bluffing your people; you won’t get away with it! Don’t even try it!  If horses can understand your underlying state of mind, so can your team.  Times of change are times for authenticity and honesty, otherwise your most precious horses might bolt and you certainly will not be first past your own particular winning post!

So if anyone has been to a leadership seminar based on horse whispering, I’d love to hear from them.  Does anyone know of other courses based on our relationship with animals?  I’m interested in all, but wolves would be a particular favourite of course!

Wendy Mason works as a consultant, business coach and blogger. Adept at problem solving, she is a great person to bring in when that one thing you thought was straightforward turns out not to be! If you have a problem talk to Wendy – she can help you – email her or ring ++44(0)7867681439

Leaders on the front line – taking criticism

NYC - Brooklyn Museum - Napoleon Leading the A...

As a leader you stand out from the crowd and, guess what, none of us are perfect.

When you are under the spotlight – even when the light is being shone by your own relatively small group – sometimes, you will receive criticism!

Some of it will be fair and some not.

If you learn to deal with it positively you will soon be able to stand back, see what is valid, and ignore the rest.

You will be able to use it to your advantage and that of your group!

There are characteristics that make us better and worse at dealing with criticism.

  • Mental Attitude  – Positive people don’t let criticism take a grip. Instead they look on the bright side, try to learn from it and then move on. When you are feeling negative, you can feel it deeply and begin to obsess about it. It can erode your morale and that of your group, so stay positive.
  • Courage – As Winston Churchill said “It takes courage to sit down and listen”. It will disarm your critics if you listen to them attentively and with openness. In those circumstances they are much more likely to give you a balanced view that could provide valuable feedback.
  • Hierarchy – Be prepared to listen and learn from criticism from any part of your organization and from customers and suppliers. It sometimes helps to regard it as free consultancy! You’ll be amazed how much respect you can gain from quite junior members of your team if you are prepared to listen and respond positively to their ideas including their criticisms. Disappointed customers respond well to being given a hearing and an apology for an honest mistake.
  • Emotional Intelligence – Being able to relate with positive emotion to your team is a key ingredient in inspiring them to success. That includes being able to recognise and acknowledge their emotions even when they are mad with you. Recognize it for what it is; empathise with it. Answer it positively and then move on. Have the grace to say sorry if, as a result of your action, someone on your team has found their work more difficult!

As for me, I have always been pretty thin skinned and found criticism quite challenging to deal with. But over the years, I’ve managed to train myself to take a far more balanced view. I would love to know what your experience has been and how you have dealt the criticism you have encountered.

Wendy Mason works as a consultant, business coach and blogger. Adept at problem solving, she is a great person to bring in when that one thing you thought was straightforward turns out not to be! If you have a problem talk to Wendy – she can help you – email her or ring ++44(0)7867681439

Three Leadership Steps to Defuse Tense Situations – Rosabeth Moss Kanter – Harvard Business Review

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How do leaders maintain morale and momentum when members of their team are close to collapsing in frustration over the obstacles they face? Perhaps the issue is angry customers whose questions are hard to answer, or uncooperative peers from other groups who cause logjams and delay decisions. Team members might grumble and complain, or they might simply appear worn down, ready to drop the ball.

Sometimes leaders are frustrated or annoyed themselves. This is already taking too much time. The complaints sound like attacks, and it’s tempting to become defensive or seethe silently. Tensions are mounting.

Before tensions get worse, leaders should turn down the heat and get everyone back on track. They can use three simple communication steps……

Read more at Three Leadership Steps to Defuse Tense Situations – Rosabeth Moss Kanter – Harvard Business Review.

What can marriage teach us about leadership?

With all this talk of weddings and marriage around I wondered what marriage might have to teach us about relationships in the workplace and, in particular, leadership.

Psychologist John Gottman is world renowned for his work on marital stability and divorce prediction; he has thirty-five years of breakthrough research on marriage.

Gottman found in his research that three types of couples succeeded.

Validating – good at communication and compromise

Volatile – lots of conflict and passion – they yell but they also laugh more, fight as equals and enjoy the process of resolving disputes

Conflict avoiding – they agree to disagree and re-affirm their shared values, emphasise the positive and value separateness and autonomy.

He found the destructive reactions were;

  • Criticism and contempt,
  • Defensiveness and withdrawal,
  • Loneliness and isolation.

It was important to have what he calls the Magic Ratio of 5 positive interactions for each negative one.

Yes, well, that is marriage of course!  Leaders have to be out there don’t they, leading from the front.  No room for compromise or avoiding conflict.

But surely a successful leader always needs to be good at communication and have the judgement to know when compromise is required.

In a creative environment, generating the new ideas required in a changing world, there may well be conflict.   You hope for passion and laughter too!  But the leader will need to ensure there is a process for resolving the differences that emerge and that people are treated with respect.

All successful organisations will have corporate and shared values but there still needs to be a place for the different view.  People will need to feel they have the leader’s confidence so that they can act with autonomy.

As for the destructive reactions, constant criticism erodes confidence, energy and motivation.  If there is a problem, sort it and move on.  The slow drip, drip of negativity is like a slowly acting poison.

Any leader who feels contempt for his team, let alone shows it, is in the wrong job.

As for a leader who acts with defensiveness towards their own team on a regular basis, or who withdraws away from them (and there are examples), they aren’t really leaders at all, are they?

These are my views on this, but I’d very much welcome yours.  And as for those of you with long and happy marriages, what secrets have you got to share with the leaders of the future?

‘Why Marriages Succeed or Fail’ by John M. Gottman (Paperback … )

Wendy Mason works as a consultant, business coach and blogger. Adept at problem solving, she is a great person to bring in when that one thing you thought was straightforward turns out not to be! If you have a problem talk to Wendy – she can help you – email her or ring ++44(0)7867681439


Remember - building self esteem is about valuing and feeling valued! Why don’t you
be generous and start a value chain – your team will reward you for your

Be generous with encouragement

It may sound trite, but if a member of your team does a good job, let them know
you have noticed. You know what looks like good and when you see it say so! Let
the team know what you have seen and that your recognize a job well done and
value it!

If a someone makes a mistake but they are doing their best, let them know that it's okay. and back them
up. They already feel bad about letting you and the team down and what
more can you expect than their best effort? It's fine to give them pointers on
what they can do better next time to help succeed, but don't berate them just
because they fail occasionally – value them.

On the other hand, if they are not giving it their best, point that out, and let them know that you expect more - and that they should, too. Your team members will respect you for this,
especially if you apply this standard to the whole team (star players should
never be exempt). Make sure each link in the chain knows they are a

Be generous with rewards
We all love to get rewards. Think about what might be the right
kind of rewards for your team – might not just be money? May be it's
a meal out occasionally or going to a sporting event! What about shopping
vouchers or tickets for a show? What do they really enjoy? So long
as you have set some clear standards – give rewards when these are exceeded.   
Don’t underestimate even the power of a certificate or plaque for
“Team Member of the Month” ! A simple award ceremony over
coffee and a recounting of the achievement can make the whole team feel good.

Be generous with your social time
Sure, you've spent hours at work this week but the work is over and you
are ready for some relaxation time. Maybe one Friday a month you
could spend the evening together with a quiz night or even just bowling. 
Make sure you spend some time with each member of the team getting to know them
away from work. Let them know they matter to you as people.



According to “The 80 Minute MBA” successful leaders know who they are!  They understand their strengths but are humble enough and, dare I say it, confident enough to admit their own weaknesses.  Understanding what they lack, they can then go on to select a rounded group of individuals who can work together in a strong team. According to researchers Robert Hogan, Gordon Curphy and Joyce Hogan, a realistic assessment of personal performance marks out leadership potential.  Leaders whose self appraisal matched the assessment made by those working for them were the ones most likely to succeed.  But finding out that assessment requires strength in personal relationships within a team that  can be hard to achieve.    So, of course, successful leaders are usually those with strong social skills as well – they can communicate and be communicated with.

The chances are that if you are humble and confident enough, and have the social skills necessary, to deal with asking others to give you an honest view of your performance, you will have done so long before you reach the top slot.  It is a very good habit to cultivate as you develop your career.  Make sure you take on a range of views and be prepared to listen to some difficult messages and to adjust.  But don’t make changes based on just one view.  If you hear something challenging from one direction, test it out in another.  Bear in mind that each person you ask will have their own perspective e g your family members will probably see you differently from your boss.  But there will be some recurrent themes and these are things to take on board and work with.  Beware of asking a one dimensional questions – don’t just ask what you are poor at!  Try to get a balanced view!  Ask the people who like you but be brave enough to ask those who may have reservations – they might be biased but they will give you a new perspective.

This is probably not a task best tackled when you are feeling down or have just had some other confidence-challenging knock back.  Go for it when things are going reasonably well and you were just about to become complacent.  Dealing with the answers could just give that incentive to raise your game again and  give you the edge.  And remember you are not meant to be perfect or to have all the answers.  Building a winning team is about recognising your own gaps!