Horses train leaders in this coming-of-age role reversal
In an exclusive interaction with People Matters, Isabelle Hasleder, trainer and coach at HQ Leadership India shared her insights on ‘HorseDream’ concept of training, that was developed in Germany over 20 years ago. HQ Leadership offers leadership training to corporates and individuals with the help of Horses.
Prior to taking up the role of a full-time coach with HQ Leadership, Hasleder worked in supply chain and logistics with BMW India and Liebherr Group, among other organizations.
Read on to find out the pulse of global leaders when it comes to recognizing the relevance of soft skills, the recurring challenges when it comes to training leaders and how horses can help you build confidence and trust again.
In your career, what sparked the shift from leading logistics to becoming a leadership coach?
As an Engineer working for one of the most advanced automobile brand BMW it's all about efficiency, making things faster and better. The biggest potential for improvement I discovered is the leadership skills of the managers and team leaders who are in direct contact with the shop floor staff. We are talking of savings somewhere between 30-50 percent which can be achieved through effective leadership. The whole team was made up of engineers, they did not see leadership as their prime focus and never received an education on managing people. My challenge was on how I could impact the team and inspire them to become better leaders, this is where the journey really began. I was drawing from my learnings from Robin Sharma's Personal Mastery Academy and other leadership experts. Then I came across "Leadership Training with Horses" in Germany - as an accomplished horse rider, I knew about the impact horses can have on one's mindset - then I learned more about this special methodology and training exercises. The feedback from my team and other business professionals to this unique training with horses was amazing. As I got more and more requests for conducting these workshops I decided to focus full time on these programs.
Animals have proven themselves to be wonderful companions and pack leaders, especially when trained for specific purposes, be it horses on battlefields or dogs in the armed forces. What inspired the idea to reverse the process and bring in horses to train leaders?
Yes, it’s true that horses as well as dogs have served people for thousands of years. We use these animals for their special skills, like dogs for identifying illegal substances in the luggage at the airport. We are doing so much with artificial intelligence and all kinds of advanced control mechanisms, but in specific areas dogs are far advanced compared to technologies.
In nature, horses live in a social community with hierarchies similar to our corporate organizations. These big animals are flight animals and not hunters like dogs. We use their natural instincts and sensitivity to energy and body language, to coach business professionals. Horses need to feel safe in order to follow a leader - quite similar to a relationship between a manager and his team. If the team or team members do not feel safe to talk to their supervisor or share their concerns, they will not tap into their full potential. That psychological safety is a very important characteristic in our business is underlined by Google's study on high performing teams.
Teams, in general, are task-driven, they lack the focus on leadership, with a high probability of their leaders never having received a formal education on managing people. This is where the journey of HorseDream concept began, to create impactful leaders and inspire them to become better.
What can leaders learn from horses and how can they implement these in their leadership styles on a daily basis? Please list some specific qualities.
We work a lot with situational leadership, emotional intelligence and change management - the difference to any other program is that participants receive instant and unbiased feedback from the horses on their individual strengths and shortcomings.
The learnings range from "Becoming a better role model, and more effective leader" to "I have learned how to delegate" or "Now, I know how to build trust with others.''
Implementation is the key to success: Participants first implement the strategies with the horses and work on refining their skills in this environment. Later they define strategies on transferring their learnings to the business environment. Horses can teach us how to build better relationships between humans.
How diverse is the experience and background of the leaders you have trained under your program?
We are working with international top-managers from India, the US, Europe and other parts of the world - some of them touch a horse for the first time when they join our program. At the same time, we also offer specific workshops for first-time managers. Their background might be in the field of IT, manufacturing or hospitality. Probably the largest group of participants are the mid-level managers, who come with specific challenges of full-filling high expectations from the top management and overcoming their daily struggles with their teams.
What are some of the recurring challenges you face as you try to train leaders?
Typical challenges range from delegation to leading by example and stepping out of their comfort zone. Trust is a major point. A lot of leaders lost the skill of building trust somewhere on their way, so when they interact with the horses they (re)discover the importance of trust in a relationship. "Do what you say and say what you do" - that is a principle which we reinforce. In our modern business life leaders have advanced in their technical knowledge - but if you look at the soft-skills one cannot see a similar improvement over the past 20 years.
What are some of the most common development areas that leaders look for?
Many leaders who join our program are already very good at what they do. At the same time, they look to become more effective in their leadership strategies and build high performing teams. Some of them are intrigued by what the horse will "tell" them about themselves. At the end of the day, self-reflection is a key take-away.
Where do global leaders stand with respect to their awareness and acceptance of the relevance of soft skills and its indispensable role to build the future workforce?
Global leaders are acutely aware of the importance of soft-skills and usually, they are on the lookout for ways and strategies to build these skills among their teams. In many companies, the trend is to move away from strict hierarchies and build expert-teams instead. Enabling high performing individuals and teams means that integrity, ownership, and self-development is even more important than in traditional roles.
With leaders across the globe focused on 'digital transformation', 'future of work' and 'upskilling', what do you think is the need of the hour?
In every company, you find some “people-leaders" who are amazing in their way they interact with others and who receive support from others across the organization. We need more of these people-leaders who are honest and deeply motivated to create a positive impact for others, and not only for themselves. For me, the need of the hour is to inspire people to become better “people-leaders" rather than tech leaders. The underlying principle for me is about building trust and understanding the impact a leader can have on others with his energy, intention, and focus.
What would your advice be for leaders across the globe in the age of disruption?
Develop the confidence and trust of your teams and encourage every employee to actively participate in leadership challenges.
In times of change and disruption, situational leadership skills increase the value of the person for the company. It's about creating a culture which embraces change.