What Horses Can Teach Us About Leadership
We all aspire to become the people we sense we can be – so what are the conditions that can liberate that possibility?
In this fascinating conversation Kelly Wendorf explains the ground-breaking work she does with leaders and horses; how our nervous systems are wired to react and influence, and what the current crisis in leadership is evolving towards.
The blueprint for meaning
How do we become the people we want to be? How do we create a more just society? These are the questions Kelly Wendorf has spent her life exploring and finding innovative approaches for.
Neuroscience says we are wired for love and connection and to understand that we are one – which means we have the blueprint for happiness and fulfilled potential within us. So what ignites the blueprint?
It turns out horses create the conditions for that blueprint to come alive. They help people see things in themselves that are tricky to access simply in conversation. Very often people come away with more insight into their self-doubts, a deeper connection to what is possible for them and how to access it; as though their whole inner compass shifts.
How is that possible? From a neurobiological point of view, our nervous systems are designed to both attune to one another and to influence one another (without words). The nervous system of a horse is so large that it positively overwhelms our nervous system.
Because they are prey animals, horses are aligned with presence and deeply attuned to their surroundings. When they tune into human beings they reflect back what they’re sensing but of course in a very pure form (without any “Story” attached).
How horses help us change
A horse will for example be unsettled not by your fear, but by your resistance to it. The horse senses your lack of alignment and this gets reflected back to you. A person will show up as they usually do and the horses will respond to that. This feedback will then help the person become present, drop the façade and open up to themselves.
Because of their alignment with presence and their powerful nervous system, when people are in the presence of horses they inevitably begin to align more with presence themselves. This bypasses intellect and goes straight to a shift on the biochemical level.
This can also happen in nature because nature vibrates with a frequency that is in alignment with the whole; the natural world alters our neurobiology. Having some knowledge of the science helps get people on board when working with nature or animals so it’s worth doing some research.
Leadership in crisis
The workplace is in crisis and people are looking to leaders to do something about it. People (especially leaders who’ve “made it” to the top of their industry) often experience a lack of meaning; suicide rates are highest in the privileged white male demographic.
This desire for meaning at work invites the idea of bringing spiritual practice into the workplace, to enable a greater sense of meaning and purpose. People inherently want to see their work as sacred. The skills leaders are looking for now include wisdom, intrinsic knowing, intuition, grounded presence, inner competence (from not being afraid to fail), vulnerability.
They’re asking questions such as, “What does it mean to project a field around me that inspires others to be their best self?”. Leaders need to understand that they are projecting a field with their nervous systems, and that field does have influence.
As coaches we tend to have some awareness of the impact of our presence, but there is a potential for deepening this awareness in our practice as well.