I've often been asked: what do horses and the sea have to do with executive development? It's a fair question. Surely there are easier ways to offer rising leaders a customized interactive and reflective experience supported by executive coaching? Not necessarily.
First, busy people need to be removed from their busy environment to even entertain the notion of reflection. We've selected two remote and unparalleled venues, the mountains of Montana and the coast of Maine, that separate participants from their jealous electronics and calendars. It's far easier to be fully present when the surroundings are attention-inspiring.
Secondly, the worlds of both the horse and the sea are inherently rich with metaphor: Getting back in the saddle Hold your horses Take the reins Learning the ropes No man is an island Fair winds and following seas ...to cite a few historical examples.
Drawing metaphors is a useful learning device because a metaphor can illustrate a nuanced concept through vivid language and imagery, making that insight sticky and therefore memorable.
Perhaps most importantly, feedback provided by horses and the sea is unbiased. A horse doesn't carry a hidden agenda. He is simply responding to my energy. If I am anxious, the horse mirrors that anxiety. If I am calm, the horse is relaxed. Similarly, if I point the boat too close to the wind, the sail luffs. If I then fall off the wind, the sail fills and the hull picks up speed. Many of our high performing participants come equipped with substantial intellects, making them highly skilled at rationalizing all forms of feedback. In the case of both the horse and the sea, the performance feedback I received was non-negotiable and for all to see. I couldn't argue with it.
Finally, effectively working with horses and the sea requires using the core executive competencies of influence and strategic capacity. The ability to influence a horse is based on the quality of the relationship in that moment. The ability to influence an entire herd of horses demands a strategic understanding and use of herd dynamics. To reach an upwind destination against waves, tide and current calls for a strategic understanding of sail theory coupled with a keen situational awareness of environmental factors. To reach that destination with a committed and aligned crew requires a command presence that communicates a vision with confidence and compassion.
The evolution of an executive is not an easy path. It never has been. In Mother Nature's uncompromised classroom, with the guidance of horses and the sea, we've found a path of least resistance, where wisdom comes naturally. In a perfect world, we would combine both learning platforms because each offers something unique. Perhaps one day we will. In the meantime, Lyle Lovett evokes that vision:
If I had a boat I'd go out on the ocean And if I had a pony I'd ride him on my boat And we could all together go out on the ocean Me upon my pony on my boat.
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