THE HORSE GUY
Coaching with Horses
DECEPTION, DISHONESTY AND MANIPULATION
Popular leadership tactics that don’t work with horses
There must be a playbook that leaders inherently know that gets invoked when change or disruption happens. It doesn’t matter whether there is an unexpected flight delay at the airport, a national presidential election or a merger and acquisition between two. organizations. We begin as partners. Customers are valued by the airline committed to managing the customer experience in ways appreciated by customers. The acquiring organization begins by seemingly appreciating the history, people and processes of the acquired entity. The nation wants a peaceful transfer of power. Everyone appears committed to shared goals. At some point all of this changes in sadly predictable ways.
Suddenly, for reasons unknown to the acquired organization, they begin to be seen as the enemy. Its leaders are left off of important calls or forbidden to attend critical meetings. They are strangely left off of email lists where, only yesterday, they were deemed part of the team. Passengers are told the delay is weather related even when the weather from the inbound flight and arrival site is fine. The election ballots are counted and recounted, as they always, are but the narrative changes. We begin to feel our experience is being manipulated by those in power. Lies, new excuses, stories with dubious factual reality are offered as proof that what we all know is true is actually false.
My father once told me that if I want to lie I better have a good memory. Otherwise, there would be inconsistencies; I would forget what I last lied about and now my manipulation and deceit would be apparent. Those with more power and rank assume that only they are strong enough and capable of handling the truth; others below or outside of the circle are seen to be weaker, not committed team players who must therefore be fed small spoonfuls of half truths. The enemy becomes the one who simply wants the truth. ‘You can’t handle the truth’, Jack Nicholson’s rant in A Few Good Men, seems to capture the essence of this stance.
Who gets to name what’s true?
The deeper question in this game is — Who gets to name reality? The group holding the power wants to believe it has a monopoly on deciding what the truth is. Its tactics of deceit, dishonesty and manipulation, however, only bring mistrust and suspicion. Their actual. agenda becomes easier to see, rendering smooth transitions virtually impossible. I have begun to appreciate that horses have a different way of responding to this all-too-human pattern.
It would be easy to point fingers and blame the deceivers. It would be understandable but too simple to feel angry with the dishonest manipulators. I have been in both camps; I have been the one demanding to define what’s real as well as the one being lied to. I’ve been. slow to appreciate how easy it is to lose sight of and detach from my own lived experience. If I am asked how I’m feeling I often cannot quickly respond. When I am asked where a certain idea or concern or hunch resides in my body, I usually don’t know. Much of this body-centered awareness has come into sharp focus only recently as I began my move into the world of horses. They are the most sensitive, body-centered creatures I have ever met.
My body does not lie; it doesn’t know how to. It only knows what its direct experience is. It knows the energetic vibration of authenticity as well as that of deceit. It knows when it is being manipulated. It recognizes congruency as the whole truth. Horses teach me these things each time I am with them. Experiences I ignore or cover up horses respond to in ways that can scare me —
I feel tired but try to show up excited and ready.
I feel cautious but try to show up with confidence.
I show up with an agenda and pretend I don’t have one.
I feel angry about something but pretend to be happy.
I show up stressed or concerned and pretend to be relaxed and open.
I feel preoccupied with an earlier appointment but pretend to be present.
In most cases the horse will walk away from me in moments like these. Sometimes they will crowd me, invade my space and step dangerously close to my feet. Other times they will pace nervously until I leave; then they will relax. Often the real solution is for me to drop into body-centered authenticity. This brand of authenticity is always about me and my lived experience. Contrary to popular opinion, real authenticity has little or nothing to do with judging others. With horses, I’m learning to own my experience in deeper ways than ever before. I have to or I may get hurt —
I feel tired right now and unsure if I have the energy I want to have.
When you pace back and forth I feel scared and don’t know what to do.
I came wanting you to approach me and wonder if you see me now as predator?
I still feel angry about a call earlier today; I’m sorry for being preoccupied.
I feel anxious about my relationship with my brother; I struggle to be open here.
I feel stuck in a tough talk with a client today; I’m not sure how to be with you.
Nowhere to hide with horses
There is nowhere to hide when we are with horses. They cannot be fooled because they sense the vibration of our thoughts before thoughts become words, intentions or feelings. They ‘hear’ our thinking. As we learn to drop into our bodies and develop the skills of listening to what our body sensations have to say to us, we can cultivate the kind of authenticity described above. It is one of the key ingredients in real transformation. More importantly, it is the only way I know of to interrupt the pattern of deceit, dishonesty and manipulation that all too frequently prevails. Horses are here to teach us a better way forward.
[Unsplash photos Jen Theodore and Brett Jordan]
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