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Leadership, Power and Collaboration – 7 factors for success

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Every interaction with a horse is a collaboration. The concept of collaboration enables organisations to work together too. With a horse, sometimes, it takes me a little longer than I want it to – but then I remember it’s not about me. By working with a horse, I have to be willing to be uncomfortable. I have to be comfortable being uncomfortable. Ultimately, that’s a small price to pay for the result of communicating and working with the horse. I’ve learned that a great relationship doesn’t need promises, terms or conditions; just two parties who can trust and understand each other. This article is intended to give leaders contemplating a collaborative undertaking, or those involved in a collaborative undertaking (where in the private or public sector), a few things to ponder. Think about the horse analogy I opened with when you read the seven factors I offer as contributors to successful collaboration way down below.


 

For organisations, collaboration enables them to work together with other organisations and tackle or address ‘wicked problems’. Recent research (by Head & Alford, 2015 – p712) defines wicked problems as those with characteristics that are, “complex, unpredictable, open-ended, or intractable”.  Western democratic governments, such as New Zealand’s, have evolved to encourage the idea of “collaborative governance” to address wicked problems in their societies. The evolution toward collaborative governance was enabled by neo-liberal principals driving public sector reform. In New Zealand, collaborative governance is referred to as a, ‘whole-of-government approach’.  Unfortunately, it has also been observed (in a 2001 Ministerial Advisory Group report – p69) that ‘whole-of-government’ is often an elastic term. It has too much breadth to provide clarity when faced with attempting holistic treatment of issues by multiple organisations.  An interesting study, the title of which begins, “The Emperors New Clothes…” (by Johansen 2014) provides fascinating reading in a well-researched thesis if you want to explore a ‘whole-of’government’ conundrum a little further.  However, my point is that regardless of whether collaboration takes place in the private or public sector, the core principle is that organisations work collaboratively to address wicked problems. At Figure 1. (below) is an image to illustrate an example of a generic collaborative venture:

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Figure 1. Simplistic illustration of a generic collaborative venture (Collaborative Undertaking “X”) between Organisation “A”, Organisation “B”, and Organisation “C”. The collaborative venture is done with the aim to achieve an outcome.

 

 

In the example illustrated (above), the experience of Organisation “A” usually affiliates with their own context rather than the subject of  Collaborative Undertaking “X”. The challenge then is how to bring about the required paradigm shift – and the context in which Collaborative Undertaking “X” takes place is often pivotal to that paradigm shift occurring. It has to be understood that Organisation “A” may have to stop doing something it does now, in order to contribute to Collaborative Undertaking “X”…and that’s just where part of the fun begins!

 

Power and Authority

For collaboration to work, however, it’s been argued (on p34-p35 of work by O’Flynn citing Emmerson et al)  that ‘power’ is a critical resource! Power enables the ‘collaborative group’ to address and manage an issue in public. Under these circumstances, the term to describe organisations and their people engaged in a collaborative undertaking (with the appropriate power) is that they have ‘discursive legitimacy’ to act. Without power, there’s no discursive legitimacy to act. Without discursive legitimacy, there are no teeth to effect the collaborative undertaking.

 

Both ‘power’ and ‘authority’ affect construction of roles and identities for everyone involved in the collaborative undertaking – from senior executives, to managers, to team leaders. Power and authority also affect the degree of obligation the contributors to the collaborative action ultimately have. We see this, for example, in language use in policy documentation associated with a collaborative undertaking. The use of modal auxiliary verbs such as, ‘must’ or, ‘shall’ indicate authority and status in the author. On the other hand, using, ‘may’ or, ‘could’ implies that something is open to negotiation or translation (Derewianka explains this nicely on p66 if you want to read her grammar companion). In practical terms, it means those lower in the hierarchy of an organisation have no power to oblige higher level decision makers (CEs and senior officials or managers) to the cause of action. In a collaborative venture, power should be shared between groups. One of the things that power enables, for example, is the joint development of policies. O’Flynn refers to ‘authority’ as, ‘an acknowledged right to exercise judgement, to act, or to make decisions.’

 

 

Authority - an acknowledged right to exercise judgement, to act, or to make decisions...

Authority – an acknowledged right to exercise judgement, to act, or to make decisions…

 

An absence of discursive authority for the producers of the collaborative undertaking reduces the power of the decision makers in Organisations “A,”, “B” and “C”. It particularly reduces the power of the decision makers in each organisation to actually make decisions and really collaborate with each other. Under these circumstances, decision makers for Organisations “A,”, “B” and “C” are left to interpret their own meaning of what it means to collaborate – usually within the confines of a governance text.  The governance text is meant to articulate ‘the rules’ governing the collaboration between Organisations “A,”, “B” and “C”.  If the governance text doesn’t explain ‘how’ the collaborative undertaking operates, or what the decision makers and managers in Organisations “A,”, “B” and “C” need to do in order to ensure the long-term success of the collaborative undertaking, then the venture will fail.

 

Resource Sharing

Resource sharing is also critical to success in collaboration. Let’s assume Organisation “A” exists to do a particular “thing”. As an organisation, it has an output, or a number of outputs, which contribute in turn to its own outcome – against which its success or failure is measured and it is held accountable for. The same is true of Organisations “B” and “C”. Let’s also assume that the collaborative venture (undertaken voluntarily, or undertaken because the organisations are directed to do so) would involve each organisation contributing resources to Collaborative Undertaking “X”. For example, one organisation might contribute a particular piece or set of equipment in which it has expertise to operate. Another organisation might contribute office space. All the organisations might contribute people.

 

The degree of success the collaborative venture has is the result or the outcome (as illustrated above in Figure 1.). The standard of the outcome sought might be determined before the venture is embarked upon, so that there is something to measure.  However, the outcome might also be something that emerges as a result of the venture. The outcome, ultimately, is what ‘winning’  would look like; it’s what success of the venture would be at a point in the future.

 

Now, what if Organisation “A” determines that it needs the resources it is contributing to the collaborative venture, in order to undertake  an activity which contributes to the achievement of its own outcome, or to one of its outputs (which contribute to the achievement of its own outcome)? The short answer is that the risk of the collaborative venture failing just increased. If Organisation “A” doesn’t have to contribute to the collaborative undertaking as an output against which it is measured, then why would Organisation “A” (particularly the CE and senior management) worry too much about the success or failure of the collaborative undertaking?

 

Let’s assume, as one way of structuring this collaborative venture, that Organisation “C” is accountable (to whomever – a government minister, or a board perhaps) for the outcome of Collaborative Undertaking “X”. What happens if Organisations “A” and “B” both chose to withdraw resources for the collaborative venture to undertake activities for which they are obliged to undertake as part of their own primary roles? Organisation “C” isn’t necessarily in a position to compel Organisations “A” and “B” to contribute.

 

Governance and accountability

 

In New Zealand, there would seem to be a dichotomy for a ‘whole-of-government’ undertaking between the adopted governance model and accountability. The appropriations process – enabling a Minister to purchase their respective public sector organisations services to meet government political objectives – is often a constraining factor of proper collaboration, in spite of reform intended to mitigate this issue (Newbury and Pallet’s 2010 study provides an interesting set of observations). Perhaps, a collaborative undertaking would work best using a Multi-Class Appropriation (scroll to the bottom of the page the link takes you to)? There is a guide to government appropriations which helps in part. The point is: current performance accountability of Organisations “A”, “B” and “C”, assuming they were government organisations, can actually stifle collaboration. In a private sector undertaking, this would not necessarily be the case – but it needs to be thought about so that collaboration isn’t similarly stifled.

 

Food for thought

 

Let’s start with this question, “Why might collaboration be essential to achieve an outcome?” The answer might lie in one of the following (the list isn’t exhaustive!):

 

  • Individual organisations have resource constraints that are mitigated by collaboration – for example, a farm needs hay cutting. The farm can’t afford the tractors and machinery required to cut hay.  A hay contractor, on the other hand, has the necessary tractors and machinery, but doesn’t have a farm on which to operate them to produce hay….

 

  •  An organisation is limited to operate the area in which it has authority to act – See Figure 2. (below). By collaborating, a full spectrum of effects is available by tapping into the authorities, capabilities, perspectives and thoughts across several organisations.
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Figure 2. Situation A: When organisations are limited by their authority to act, the gaps between the organisations are open to exploitation. Situation B: When organisations collaborate, the gaps are closed and being exploited is mitigated.

 

  • Collaboration provides better organisational perspective, agility and opportunity for innovation – to tackle wicked problems, this is preferable to insular thinking brought about by an organisation acting in its own context and undertaking siloed action. It prevents duplication of effort, among other things. Expertise can be tapped into that facilitates better outcomes together, than individual organisations could achieve alone.

 

  • There is no redundancy in the event of a stream of effort, or a line of activities being unavailable – for example: Key is delivery of a service or item. Organisation “A” provides aerial delivery platforms, but foul weather prevents flying. Organisation “B” provides boats  and Organisation “C” has trucks.

 

Seven factors for success in any collaborative undertaking (public sector, or private sector)

 

Again, this list isn’t exhaustive. However, these are seven factors I consider critical to creating conditions for the success of a collaborative undertaking, or venture:

  1. Those either establishing, or undertaking, the venture must clearly convey their belief about collaboration. Why is it better to collaborate? Why are Organisations “A”, “B” and “C” involved in the collaboration? Collaboration is a good thing, but you can’t be half-in!
  2. The power to address and manage issues associated with the collaborative undertaking must enabled – i.e. the power and authority to direct how to collaborate. No power and authority to act = no teeth for the collaborative undertaking = failure to achieve the outcome to the standard required.
  3. The collaborative undertaking needs the authority to exercise judgement, to act, or make decisions in order to achieve the required outcome. This authority must be vested in those engaged in the collaborative undertaking – especially in the overall ‘manager’ of the collaborative venture. It needs a grown-up to make a decision under circumstances when the participants don’t play nicely together!
  4. Resources must be shared. There must be an arbiter to make a decision when there is conflict or tension between the priorities of contributing organisations and the priorities of the collective venture. Organisation “B”doesn’t get to decide that its own output is a higher priority for it as an organisation, than the collaborative venture’s priority is for Organisation “B”. If you are going to collaborate, share the resources like a grown-up.
  5. Any governance text must be easy to interpret, without ‘spin’ to suit an individual contributing organisation. Governance texts must clearly articulate the ‘rules’ for collaborating. The texts must identify roles across a range of decision-making positions in any hierarchical situation, from CEs to team leaders. Be clear about who does what, with whom, and why. Afford managers the autonomy to interpret pragmatically ‘how’ to collaborate with their peers. Don’t be prescriptive about the way managers construct collaboration. Be clear on the outcome sought from the collaboration, the purpose of the collaboration and let the people get on with it. If a six-year old or a folder retriever can understand what you are saying, then you are on the mark!
  6. If the CEs from Organisations “A”, “B” and “C” sign up to contribute to the collaborative venture, then they must be held accountable for being obligated to the ’cause of action’ associated with the collaborative undertaking. So too are the senior officials, managers and team leaders involved. Someone senior to, or independent from  Organisations “A”, “B” and “C” must be accountable for the overall outcome of the collaborative venture. In a private venture, a legally binding agreement detailing this would work just as well. There must be a way to enforce the obligation to the ’cause of action’ that removes the tension between agency and structure. Friday afternoon cage-fighting would be another way to remove the tension, but it can get messy from a health and safety perspective!
  7. If a collaborative undertaking is considered essential to meet an outcome then innovation and risk-taking must not be stamped out. Don’t put obstacles in the way that constrain collaboration. Actively commit to removing obstacles once encountered (there will inevitably be some!). Think about how to deal with the situation where Organisations “A”, “B and “C” have no experience in how to collaborate. Inexperience can lead to a confusing narrative and then not enable multi-organisational practices.

 

The good news is, organisations can learn how to collaborate, or get help to do so, but you must have the will to collaborate in the first place. Collaboration is ultimately about being better together than in isolation.  I’ll conclude this piece with horse analogies…..because I’m The Naked Horseman after all! The legendary (and late) horseman Tom Dorrance once said, “sometimes a horse will put up the greatest resistance just before he comes though.” He called it ‘the darkest hour before dawn’. His point was that at the moment of greatest resistance, people usually give up – or lose their temper. If you just keep being patient, experience has taught me that the horse is about to come around. My experience under those circumstances comes from exercising bad judgement in the past; now I know that when I’ve mis-judged, I’ve learned what not to do next time and I’ve developed better judgement. Collaborative ventures are a bit like that.

 

I’ll give the final word on undertaking a collaborative venture to C.S. Lewis…..

 

“It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird; it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.”

 

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The successful outcome of a collaborative venture! Worked towards through clarity about what winning looks like – two animals who can trust and understand each other.

 

~ TNH.

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Leadership and wielding power

Its been a couple of months since I last posted anything. Apparently though, if my blog had been a San Fransisco cable car over the course of the past year then it would have taken 48 trips to carry the number of people who viewed it. The views came from 79 countries over the past 12 months too, and most commented on was my article on Leaders, Power and Openness. My first post of the new year took a while to put together – hope you enjoy it.


 

 

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“….and if horses don’t have confidence in the person and the surroundings, it’s pretty hard for them to get confidence within themselves – about how to cope with those other two things.” ~ The late Tom Dorrance

 

The late Tom Dorrance was born in 1910 and his life was filled with ranch work, farming and especially horses. He’s influenced the thinking of an extraordinary number of people over the years (including me), and he continues to influence long after his death in 2003. The combination of the circumstances associated with the photograph above, as well as a recent event involving a client who was extremely nervous about a recent meeting with the Chief Executive of their organisation has been tumbling around clumsily in my head for a while.

 

As the CE – or any other leader for that matter – do you have any idea of how you impact upon others? Do you have any sense at all of how your presence affects others? Do you even care?

 

During my military career, I’ve met a number of people who didn’t. They even seemed to enjoy the ‘bragging rights’ they were under the impression it gave them the right to express. Somehow, by being the ‘alpha male’ stereotype, they operated under the delusion that they were an awesome leader. I’ve also met people who didn’t possess charisma or good communication skills; they would employ micro-management and empty discourse instead. They would slavishly adhere to nonsense rules and policy, creating environments where people dreaded making mistakes for fear of what would happen after they did. I’ve met people who enjoy puffing their feathers and showing off their plumage. I’ve met those who hide behind the authority vested in their rank or position. In each case, I recall being staggered, but mostly disappointed, that the organisation rewarded such behaviour or example. The military isn’t perfect – it has people in it after all. Fortunately, I’ve been privileged to serve with some not just good, but outstanding leaders. The types you would walk over hot coals for; the types who put you in harm’s way, but not wantonly – and you go there willingly for them. I’ve met leaders where I’ve looked at them in awe of how they have done something, or interacted with others, and wondered how I could learn to incorporate even a fraction of incredible excellence into the way I lead. The very best ones I met weren’t interested in acquiring followers; they were devoted to creating and developing more leaders – who would be better than them.

 

...you allow a horse to make mistakes. The horse will learn from mistakes no different than the human. But you can't get him to where he dreads making mistakes for fear of what's going to happen after he does." ~ Buck Brannaman

…you allow a horse to make mistakes. The horse will learn from mistakes no different from the human. Sometimes, you still have to be a parent, but be firm and fair. You can’t get him to where he dreads making mistakes for fear of what’s going to happen after he does.” ~ Buck Brannaman

 

My client and I have worked together for less than a handful of years now. The comment that has caused me to allow the thoughts to rumble around in my head came up during one of our regular discussions and it leapt out at me at the time.

 

Client: “I’m really nervous about meeting with the CE. Hope she is in an OK mood.”

Me: “You’ll be fine. She sits down to poop just like you do.”

Client: *smiles apprehensively and nods.

 

The conversation went on to wrangle with this a little more, but I was really struck by my Client’s initial comment. On reflection, I realised there were two parts to it; one was an internal issue and the other an external one. More interesting, the two parts work in the case of both parties (i.e. my Client, and their CE). I’ve often said that behaviour is the outward manifestation of what’s going on; it’s a symptom. The people working for and with a leader are on the receiving end of the behaviour – and the leader makes a choice about how to express their behaviour. The choice is either deliberate, sub-conscious, or un-conscious; but a choice is made nonetheless.  Being conscious and mindful is hard work; the brain seeks energetically efficient ways to do things and so often, we make a choice that is the one involving least effort. Unfortunately, under pressure those choices are self-indulgent ways of articulating something or expressing ourselves and outwardly, what we project is perhaps not what we would mean to if we put in a little more thought and effort.

 

"The horse is a great equalizer. He doesn't care how good looking you are, or how rich you are, or how powerful you are. He takes you for how you make him feel." ~ Buck Brannaman

“The horse is a great equalizer. He doesn’t care how good-looking you are, or how rich you are, or how powerful you are. He takes you for how you make him feel.” ~ Buck Brannaman

 

Over the years, I’ve worked with a number of high-profile figures, over lengthy time periods. Over a handful of them have earned international success in high performance areas. Who they are isn’t important – I’m not someone who seeks or wants accolade or testimonial from such figures so that other people think I’m somehow awesome. You shouldn’t be concerned about who they are either – I’ve yet to have anyone work with me because they want to boast about working with “the guy” who worked with this or that person. People work with me because I’m effective and I’m not interested in a one-shot encounter. My business model is counter-intuitive in some ways; rather like “Rule One of Fight Club – you don’t talk about Fight Club”. Ironic then that I blog, I suppose. However, I blog mostly for me; I don’t want to force what I do on anybody – that’s not the way I work with horses and so it just makes sense to me that I continue that approach with business. With all the people I’ve had the honour of working with, from all walks of life, what strikes me most is how little the horse cares about reputation. The horse just isn’t impressed.

 

What the horse does care about – and it’s why they are such good teachers – is how you make them feel. Humans are no different.  As a leader, do you really want people to be nervous before they come to meet you? There are times when yes, of course you do, but I’m talking about on everything but those rare occasions. As a leader, how do you ever know you are wrong if you have created an environment where people are too nervous to speak the truth to you? Do you as a leader value the nature and quality of the relationships you have with people? How as a leader do you deal with ‘difficult’, or challenging people to lead? Are you intimidated by it, and so resort to using intimidation to give yourself a sense of control?

 

There is a Yugoslav expression that, roughly translated, means, “if you want to know a person, place them in charge.” Other cultures have something similar. Everything I’ve spoken about here relates to how you as a leader wield power, and the effects of how you wield power. It also relates to what ‘control’ for you might look and feel like.  My experiences and my working with horses have enabled me to think differently about what ‘control’ actually is; and mostly, it’s a false sense. The first photograph above was a moment where ‘Benny’ – a handful of a young horse – made a decision that he would ‘join up’ with me. It was his decision, but it was crucial for us being able to work together; he had to want to be there with me. As with all the horses I work with, I can’t make them do anything – they have a say in it. Power can be an intoxicating thing and I know this – just like I know the sun will rise in the morning and set in the evening: you ride a spirited horse with a light touch and on a loose rein. You don’t try to control it; you develop a relationship with it. You listen to it, you go with it and you ask it – you don’t tell it.

 

In 2016, don’t be the leader around whom people are nervous. I wish you all a positive and rewarding year ahead.

~ TNH

 

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Ride with a light touch and a loose rein!

 

 

The beginning is the most important part

Nev

 

“The beginning is the most important part of the work.”
– Plato

 
Earlier this year, I embarked on a venture that allowed me to explore a new way of working with selected clients.  The idea behind it is by no means original to me, but instead was ‘intellectually beach-combed’ after I read about a café in Wellington operated with a bold philosophy that allows its customers to decide how much they want to pay for their cup of coffee.  The audacity and simplicity of the approach appealed to me.

Co-incidentally, numerous discussions with the owner of another café over the course of a few months made me aware that I was perhaps in a position to help.  The challenges he was confronted with were literally keeping him awake at night and his passion was seeping away in front of me.  On the one hand, my specialist knowledge isn’t free; after all, it’s how I earn part of my income.   However, I didn’t want him working with me and worrying about the fee clocking up – there is nothing worse than being stuck in traffic in a taxi and watching the meter ticking over is there?

To get around this, I suggested that the way forward was that I would spend as little or as much time with him as he wanted, as often or as infrequently as he wanted – in return for which there was no fee at all.  Instead, I suggested that he could decide the value of my work with him and the manner of the remuneration would be entirely up to him too.   As we spoke, I realised that part of the reason for the positivity of our interaction so far was the authenticity of our engagement and I was keen to maintain and nurture that; the outcome was being able to help him think through and then tackle the issues vexing him.  As we chatted this morning when I called in to order one of the best long-black coffees provided in Wellington, I realised how much more relaxed he is looking and he seems to genuinely be enjoying life again.

As I left the cafe, I tried to think of an equine illustration that I might relate to this story.  Every horse is different; sound’s like a no-brainer I know, but you would be surprised how many horse owners and even horse trainers forget this at times.  Every horse responds differently and every horse has slightly different requirements or ways of interpreting what you are asking of them.  A final factor to bear in mind is that every horse has a say in how they respond!  What happens in terms of progression with a horse depends significantly on the way you start out – they way the foundations for what comes next are laid.

The value for my client was initially in having someone listen to him and to understand.  Next was the value in helping him order and discipline his thought, without forcing him to adopt a process or template.  This was a guy with an absolute passion for making fresh, wholesome, good food with consistency, creativity and care.  That was at the heart of why he had opened the café in the first place.   Somewhere along the journey, he became entangled in ‘managerial’ issues; he also developed a sense frustration over a number of things that it wouldn’t be appropriate to expand on here.  In short, his time and energy were being taken up with lots of things, including a relationship break-up, which had nothing to do with the passion for opening and running his café, and he now felt lost.

Drawing on my military experience, and thinking about navigation – you are never really lost.  When you are not sure where you are, it takes courage to stop, to fight that initial pang of angst at having strayed from the route you were following and to think through your situation.  The situation can be complicated by factors like your lack of sleep, the cold, deteriorating weather, fear, the security situation or the terrain.  Regardless, it takes discipline to look at the map and study it, picking features from it and relating them to what you can physically see around you.  It takes belief in yourself to think through your circumstances and to identify that last position you could recognize with certainty and to work out what you had done to lose awareness of your known location.  Then you have to come up with a plan that gets you out of your current situation and back on track.  Interestingly, when you teach navigation, you have to let people become lost in order for them to learn how to develop the ability to discover.  At times, you even deliberately create situations in which people are lost.

Whether you are sat on a fog-shrouded, wind-soaked hillside, whether a horse is testing the limits of everything you thought you knew to that point, whether you are a leader and decision maker in a large corporate, or you are the owner of a café – lost feels like the same thing until you realise that you are never really lost.

Having sat and listened to my client – with whom I have become friends – I pushed my coffee cup to one side, leaned forward and told him I wanted to help if he would let me.  I told him that the nature of how he acknowledged the value of my input, would be up to him.  For example, he might simply make a recommendation about working with me to someone else; he might decide I get free coffee every time I come into his café; he might pay me a lump sum at some point if he considered my input contributed to his success.  Most importantly, I told him that none of those things were expected or necessary and he also had the choice to simply say thank you and do nothing further. That was a perfectly acceptable acknowledgement.  Setting these parameters enabled us to focus on the issues at hand – in horse terms, the ‘join-up’ was effective and we could move forward.

At the top of a fresh, blank page in his notebook I wrote, “Why are you here?”  When I turned the book around so he could read it, he looked at me puzzled.  I asked the question out loud, “Why are you here?”  He still looked puzzled.  I said, “…the beginning is the most important part of the work – any work – and so I am curious…“Why do you turn up here every day, unlock the door, switch off the alarm, switch on the lights and fire up the coffee machine?”

Such a simple question, that is actually very difficult to answer in a concise and pragmatic way – perhaps that’s why so many people opt not to try.  A great start to help focus your thoughts often begins really understanding, “Why?…….Why are you here?

 

The importance of little things

Alex

 

The man in this picture is from Korea; he visited me recently with a small international delegation and it was the first time in his life that he had actually touched a horse.  The man in this picture is incredibly polite and he is one of the nicest people I have ever met.  I was struck by how profound for him it was to do something that I am lucky enough to be able to something as simple as stroke a horse as many times each day as I decide to or want to.

 

A little time has passed since I posted something due to work and travel – oh and building an extension on our small cottage.  What it has enabled me to do is think; to consider what the purpose of this blog represents – or even whether it needs such a thing as grand as ‘a purpose’!

 

I have thought a lot about paying attention to the effective use of language.  Engaging with the man in this photograph (his name is Alex) and a number of his international colleagues – who are all guests in our country until December this year – has required me to slow my spoken English down.  It has required me to consider each word I use and it has been interesting explaining some of the things we do.  If something has not been understood, then I find another way of trying to articulate things – and eventually we get there and often laugh.  Working with horses has helped in that regard; you learn to break what you are asking of them down into smaller steps.  You set them up for success and together you find a way to communicate and work more effectively together.

 

As the horses I work with, I realised I had no interest in producing easy junk or self-indulgent musing.  There has been a period of scene-setting or framing my approach – and I am learning all the time.  To that end, clarity is an important foundation; whether I am working with horses, consulting or writing.  Clarity and simplicity in each of those things seems to come from clarity of thought.  However – and just when you think you have it nailed – clarity and simplicity also emerges from fuzziness and a sense of trying to hone in on what a lawyer friend of mine once described to me as, “the theory of the case”.  As I understand it, every case that appears before the courts can be summarised in just one or two concise sentences; everything else presented is to either support or refute the theory of the case.  So that’s the first element to aspire to – clarity and simplicity.

 

Next, I wanted as a feature of working with horses (or consulting….or writing) to persuade; to influence – or to offer another perspective.  It doesn’t make me right; it is just another perspective to help make informed decisions.  It means keeping my ego in check; I don’t write (or train horses…or consult) to impress anyone and nor am I trying to write (or train horses….or consult) like an academic.  I am most definitely not, an academic!  A dear friend provided me with a lovely expression; she talks of developing strong ideas, but holding them gently.  Conceptually, I like this very much.  It enables open-mindedness; receptivity to new or alternative views.  During my work with horses, I often say to clients that they retain the prerogative to discard or disregard everything I impart.  In doing so though, the only thing I ask them to be sure of is that they not only understand why they might do so, but that they can explain it too.  Now we have persuasion and perspective on the list….next up – absence of sloppiness!

 

The tenet of pursuing excellence in a ruthless or unrelenting manner drives this powerfully.   There is art in balancing the requirements to achieve this pursuit – it means realising when 80 per-cent on time is acceptable, rather than delaying because of the chase for perfection.  Important too is the understanding that 80 per-cent doesn’t entail delivery of average.  It entails not being careless and being motivated to give an idea the light of day.

 

Finally, there has to be a touch of audacity!  This comes from a fundamental drive to get the job done, and without worrying too much about how I get there at times.  Recently I proposed a concept to a group with whom I was working; it is the concept of the ‘magic number’ being nine.  I got the idea from one of those clever photo-meme things people post on Facebook.  Around the room, there were a few smiles when my intellectual beach-combing enabled me to write in different places on the whiteboard: “7+2″…..”6+3″…..”5+4″…..”1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1”.  It helped illustrate that in the end, there are lots of ways the sum can be done, but what we are ultimately after was “nine”.  How we get there matters less, but if elegance features it is a welcome bonus.

 

And so what does all this have to do with the man in the picture?  I think this: alert yourself from time to time over the things you take for granted.  Develop clarity – and if you can simplicity – in what you try to do and think carefully about the language you use to articulate an idea.  The man in the picture is a fighter-pilot; he can’t afford to accept sloppiness, or to be careless, but in the conduct of what he does there is elegance in his conduct.  He is polite, driven, smart and works hard.  Then at the core of all that, with everything he gets to do for a living,  he touched a horse for the first time in his life and with a massive grin told me that he considers it to have been one of the most amazing day’s of his life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The importance of asking, “why?”…

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Why what?….Why this blog? Why horses? Why leadership?  Why horses and leadership? Why me?

“Why?”  is an important question to ask yourself – “why are you doing this?”, “why are you here?”, “what makes you turn up on the day’s you feel like you don’t want to?”

The essence for me is that ‘it’ (the horses thing, the leadership thing, the horses and leadership thing) provides me with sense-making – and more importantly, comfort with the times when it doesn’t make sense.  It is around these things  and amongst these things that I have found expression of authentic self.  Without obsessing, I have reflected over the years on what I might actually ‘do’ with my life if I could really choose to spend my time in any way I wanted.  It took a long time to work it out – partly because I just didn’t know.

It was also partly because like many, many other people in the world I have bills to pay, and partly it was because I have been fortunate to spend a large part of my life doing work that I loved.  With all of that, I realised that the things that were always ‘centring’, always ‘grounding’, always ‘restorative’, always humbling and a privilege, and always gave me strength to endure things that were difficult were the things that emerged from either being around horses, or being a leader….or both.

The leadership and development work I provide have became a natural extension of my work with horses and other formative events.  The horse is a great vehicle (forgive the pun) for teaching and provides endless examples for me to work with clients.

The final element for me was this this:

At the end of it all – I ran out of reasons to keep trying to convince myself that this was only something I did in my ‘spare’ time; life is too short and much too fickle.

In solving some problems, there is a neat technique called, ‘the five whys’.  It usually starts with a statement about a problem and involves asking the question, “why?” Whatever the answer to this first question, you then ask, “why?” again.  In response to that answer, ask “why?” and keep asking it until you have asked “why?” on five occasions.  The answer to the final posing of “why?” tends to be the revealing of the real problem, not the one that it first appeared to be.

TNH.

To find out more about The Naked Horseman:

1. Visit my page on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/tnh.co.nz

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