Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Horse Whisperer Leadership

I’d never thought of him as a leader until recently.  My paternal grandfather was a noted horse whisperer as was my great-grandfather.  Other ranchers frequently sought their help and expertise with horses.

As the only son of his only son who was also a horseman, I was good with horses but too impatient, and the gift of my ancestors leapfrogged over my generation into my only niece, the daughter of my younger sister.

I don’t think of myself as a transformational leader but I believe that being a leader from an early age transformed me – although some of my former co-workers before I retired several years ago would argue that it was not enough!

More appreciation for my grandfather’s latent leadership ability came to me as I read a recent article about Vista Caballo, located near Dove Creek, Colorado, which my English Bulldog Mugsy and I passed on the second of our now-four 6,000-mile cross-country ventures along various routes in the last 30 months, when we cut across the Rockies of southwestern Colorado making our way from Santa Fe, New Mexico to the arches canyon lands of Moab, Utah on a sparkling February afternoon.

Vista Caballo is a leadership retreat of sorts with a very unique and highly effective approach using horses that has been celebrated in a white paper by John Marshall Roberts, an applied behavioral scientist and business consultant who blogs at WorldviewThinking.com

Though he only had a couple of years of education, my grandfather could have easily been a professor at Vista Caballo which isn’t far from Alamosa in south-central Colorado to which we traveled from our ranch up in the Yellowstone-Teton nook of Idaho from time to time to trade horses.

Horses teach us humility, but they also teach us to be a good follower.  A year before I retired, I read a fascinating paper that took an evolutionary psychological approach to leadership entitled Leadership, Followership and Evolution- Some Lessons From the Past written by Mark Van Vugt, Robert Hogan and Robert Kaiser.

They argue that any understanding of leadership must be complemented by a thorough understanding of followership.  In his book The Righteous Mind, Dr. Jon Haidt, an ethics researcher at the NYU Stern School of Business, uses an analogy on this subject that resonated with me when he writes that “focusing on leadership alone is like trying to understand clapping by studying only the left hand.”

Horses definitely teach followership and leadership.  So do English Bulldogs (smile.)

No comments: