Leading by Asking Questions
One of the big lessons I have learned about leadership from my horses is that it is often better to lead by asking rather than telling.
When I was first learning how to play with and communicate with horses, I would tell them what I wanted them to do. I remember a time when I was trying to teach my horse, Baby, to back over a log. The log was only about four inches in diameter, but she did not believe she could pick up her back feet and get over it.
I would stand near her head and place my hand on her nose and apply backward pressure to ask her to go backward. She had figured out how to back easily on flat ground, but when I wanted her to step over something, she resisted. I would ask more firmly until she got tired of my nagging and she would finally back over the log.
I had a vision of what needed to be done, and “By God!” she was going to do it! I insisted until it happened. I would reward her with a release of pressure and lots of praise, but I was not being fair to her. When she resisted, she wasn’t just being obstinate. Baby was saying, “I can’t do this.” By forcing her to do it anyway, it reduced her opinion of me as a leader.
Now, when I am teaching a horse a new task, I have learned that I don’t tell, but I ask. “Can you back over this log? No? Then what can I do to help you figure out how to do it? Can you walk forward over the log? See? You can lift your feet that high! Can you back over this rope? Now, this stick? Good!”
Each time I will ask for a little bit more. By respecting her fear, I am able to work with it. I can build up her confidence a little at a time. When I ask what she can do instead of telling her, she is more willing to try. The more I find out what she can do, and how she feels, the more she respects me as a leader.