Horseback riding season has started again, and as I progress in my horsemanship, I often learn or am reminded of key leadership lessons. This weekend was no exception. During a trail ride on Sunday, Belle and I had some new experiences together that tested my leadership as the rider, and her responses to my direction.
Usually, when we go trail riding, there are minor challenges along the way, but nothing too outrageous. Sure, Belle gets startled by silly things like logs or tractor tires. We have those occasional moments along the trail, but they are fewer and further between these days. Every once in a while, we encounter a totally new challenge, and this weekend it was a creek crossing.
As far as I know, Belle had never crossed a creek before, particularly not one this deep. Belle and I were not in the lead, but when it came to be her turn to enter the creek, there were no horses to follow as the horses in front of us had moved on upstream. We moved forward, down the bank, and Belle did not want to move forward. Whether because of the mud at the creek edge, or the water itself, she was very nervous about moving forward. I knew how nervous she was even without her occasional quivering. Several times we took one step forward, only to take two steps back. After a few minutes of trying, Belle finally did move forward into the water.
If the journey into the water was not enough, Belle still was not sure about moving upstream. She kept stopping and nosing at the water, and it took a bit of urging to keep her moving. Clearly, the flow of the water was something she had not expected, and she really did not know what to make of it. At one point, she started pawing at the water and making like she wanted to lay down in it. The going was slow, but a couple of hundred feet upstream, we climbed out of the creek and onto solid ground.
New challenges are difficult, both for the rider, and for the horse. Facing them successfully is highly dependent upon the relationship between the rider and the horse, and the amount of trust they share. In this scenario, I had to trust Belle to be attentive and listen to my direction, and Belle had to trust me to guide her safely through the obstacle. Without trust, we both could have been injured. Belle and I have developed a level of trust that enable us to take on these new challenges and traverse them safely.
It certainly helps that Belle is a seasoned horse with 19 years of life experience. One of the other horses had a lot of trouble entering the creek. The horse was much younger, and the rider had very little time in with that horse. They did not have a well-developed relationship. That horse had to be ponied (led) into the water by another horse. Although the horse and rider were able to cross the creek, it took a more experienced horse and rider to make it happen.
From a leadership perspective, this trust relationship holds true among humans. When a leader has a strong, trusting relationship with his or her team, the team will follow the leader through new challenges and obstacles, and complete tasks successfully. However, when there is little or no trust, the team will be far less likely to follow the path the leader has laid out and even if they follow, they will often fall short of the objective. Of course, trust and performance are a range, and there are varying levels of each in any team, but the best performing teams have a high level of trust with their leader and within the team.
Perhaps this is a long way of getting at the point, but taking the time to establish trust in interpersonal relationships, between leaders and followers, and amongst team members is an essential ingredient in leadership and team functioning. Without this key ingredient, team functioning will degrade and performance will decrease. Take the time to establish trust and you will have a strong foundation to achieve any objective before you.
From Merriam-Webster's online dictionary:
One of my favorite quotes is from the prologue of Jurassic Park:
They were so busy worrying about whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should. – Crichton, Michael. (1990). Jurassic Park
The more I read this quote, the more I am reminded of how often it applies in life. We get caught up so quickly and easily in figuring out whether we can, and how we can, and we sometimes forget to ask if we should or not. Did you really think about whether you should the first time you touched a hot burner on the stove? What about that one time too many that you used your credit card, and over-extended yourself? Or, <insert example here>. I am sure we all have plenty of examples where we used poor judgment along the way.
It is my experience that we all too often get caught up in the impossibility of the situation and focus too little on the possibility of an outcome. How often have you said "I can't" or "We can't" and believed that the desired outcome was beyond your reach? If you are like me, more often than you would like. That is, until someone challenges us to seek out the possible and try to achieve it. My most pointed experience with this was with my new manager last year, who regularly posed the question "Why can't we?" And with that simple question begins the quest.
Decision making can be a really daunting task in business. We often get lost in doubts about the decision that we are making, and it can result in inaction. As we have seen over recent years, the pace of business is moving very fast, and adapting to new contingencies quickly is very important to remaining competitive and viable. Yet, the doubts creep in.
- What if I don't have enough information?
- What if it isn't accurate?
- What if it costs too much?
- What if I damage a customer relationship?
- What if I make the wrong decision?
No matter what you do, you can't eliminate all risk. Managers and employees make decisions every day that can have far-reaching effects, and they are almost always based on imperfect information. The most important thing you can realize is that it's okay.
A lot of my co-workers profess that they spend too much time in meetings, or have too many unproductive meetings. Not that I am an expert, but I have had to learn through trial and error some of the best/worst ways to facilitate a meeting. Some of my favorite techniques are included in this post, and while some of them may seem common sense, they should help you to facilitate your meetings better in the future.
I was looking at my blog last night and realized that it has been a long time since I had posted. Almost a year, in fact. Today I rededicate my intentions to keep up better with my blog. My intention is to be better focused on topics from my daily life, shortening my posts, and having them come more frequently. This should be a good challenge. Some topics I intend to cover are listed below.