Life has been too much work for too long. Not that I’m complaining – I love my job, I love the people I get to work with, I love seeing how technology is applied in so many different ways.
Yet, I’ve been missing something.
A couple of years ago while driving, I passed an equestrian center; beautiful black horses with feathers on their legs were floating around the pasture. I thought one day I’ll give that place a call.
Two years later I finally did.
So, I’m back in the saddle agaa-aa-in (cue Aerosmith or Gene Autry). While certain things come back from deep within the subconscious - like tacking and leading from the left (so the sword doesn't get in the way), picking hooves, bridling - I realize that many things don’t. I’m a two decades older version of my former lithe, supple self. And oh am I feeling it. Consciously, painfully feeling it. Each. Step. Of. The. Painful. Way. Ow.
As I limp around after a lesson, pondering the lamentations of my trainer because I can't get the freakin' leg yield down, the interesting part is what I feel out of the saddle. After a few months of spending time doing something outside of work, I’ve realized just how much work – and life – has improved. I’ve kept a journal of insights; here’s the first of several chunks.
Part 1: Connection
Since I’ve been riding, I’ve noticed an interesting development in my work life: coaching is fluid, easier. Connection with people is not so forced (I'm an introvert). “How is there possibly a parallel?" you may ask. "Horses don’t talk! You just kick them and they go!” Not so! Horses’ communication comes in many forms: eyes, body posture, four legs, a tail - sometimes a popping slashing tail with pinned ears (which means I am not happy). They are full of non-verbal cues. Hershey greets me with a loud sniff and inquisitive eyes, forward ears - and then turns his head away when I ask him to take the bit. He’s telling me that he is happy to see me, but he really doesn’t feel like working. An extra sugar cube helps coax him along.
Ok, sure, horses don’t talk per se (unless you’re riding Mr. Ed) – but you can be darn sure they’re communicating. Just like the teams I coach, or the manager who’s struggling with letting go, it’s of utmost importance to tune into these subtleties. Just yesterday I noticed the flush of a director’s face when he realized that he’s no longer in charge of micromanaging his team. Had I not tuned in, I would have missed the three seconds of ombre flesh as it turned from white to pink – the tell tale of, “uh oh, my world’s about to be rocked.” Connection is the foundation for everything a coach must build upon; likewise, connection is the way we get a horse - a flight animal - to trust us and constantly fight its nature to run.
If I'm honest with myself, I really do think that my coaching efficacy had been somewhat numbed over the years because I’d been coaching too much, too many long hours, taking on other people’s burdensome emotional baggage without an outlet of my own. I was learning throughout, but only within the coaching context. Opening my mind in a completely different way has enabled me to draw on and apply some important parallels from one world to the other. Single-focus can get you through a tough spot, but it isn’t good for you long term. An effective coach or leader has a robust life, providing many lessons and adventures to draw from. This enables connection. Connection enables empathy and trust. Trust enables change.
In dressage, a rider checks her horse by giving a half-halt, which prepares him for the next movement while continuing to move forward. As a result, the resulting movement is more likely to be collected and beautiful. When will you half-halt next? What will you learn when you do so? What will you bring with you from an area outside your life to improve your coaching or leadership?