The horse-whis­perer’s guide to win­ning at work

At a Chen­nai train­ing school, ex­ec­u­tives learn lead­er­ship skills – from horses!

The Hindu Business Line - - VARIETY - VENKY VEMBU

Of lead­er­ship lessons, Clau­dios Fer­nando, Di­rec­tor at Woory Au­to­mo­tive In­dia Pvt Ltd, can likely find plenty in man­age­ment tomes and busi­ness books. But the on-field lessons that he re­cently got from a herd of new ‘lead­er­ship gu­rus’ in Chen­nai were some­what unique. Even the de­port­ment of his per­sonal trainer was dis­tinc­tive: his ‘men­tor’, for in­stance, had four legs, a bushy tail — and broke into a trot when­ever Fer­nando waved a whip!

The pe­cu­liar ‘lead­er­ship devel­op­ment’ pro­to­col that Fer­nando un­der­went is eas­ily ex­plained: over at HQ Lead­er­ship In­dia (lead­er­ship horses.com), in Chen­nai — founded by Is­abelle Hasleder, an Aus­trian who has ‘gone na­tive’ in In­dia — the ‘coaches’ are horses. And cor­po­rate ex­ec­u­tives, in­clud­ing some from For­tune 500 com­pa­nies, are im­parted lead­er­ship train­ing that is rooted in a “horse-as­sisted ed­u­ca­tion” pro­gramme ini­ti­ated by EAHAE, the Ger­many-based In­ter­na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion for Horse As­sisted Ed­u­ca­tion.

‘Horse sense’ is the key

Horses re­spond to a hu­man be­ing’s body lan­guage and in­ten­tion, says Hasleder, who has won in­ter­na­tional equine dres­sage com­pe­ti­tions and has worked in se­nior man­age­ment po­si­tions at Ger­man and Swiss multi­na­tion­als in In­dia.

And un­like dogs, horses don’t form a unique bond with the own­ers, which means they will obey any­one who com­mands au­thor­ity. On the other hand, “if the horse senses you are dif­fi­dent or afraid, you will not be able to es­tab­lish your­self as the leader.”

This un­der­stand­ing is at the core of the horse-as­sisted lead­er­ship pro­gramme that Hasleder over­sees at the sub­ur­ban cam­pus with 50 horses and ponies and the rid­ing school that she runs along with her hus­band and ar­chi­tect Dhruv Fut­nani.

HQ Lead­er­ship In­dia is the first in the coun­try to of­fer this pro­gramme. “The HQ in the name stands for Horse Quo­tient, which is a mea­sure of how well you can man­age groups of horses – or em­ploy­ees,” notes Hasleder.

How it works

As part of the train­ing reg­i­men, which costs ₹17,000 per par­tic­i­pant per day, ex­ec­u­tives first re­flect on their lead­er­ship style. Says Hasleder: “They rate Is­abelle Hasleder, with two of her ‘lead­er­ship coaches’

them­selves on a few pa­ram­e­ters: How clearly do you com­mu­ni­cate? How good is your trust in oth­ers? Do you lead by ex­am­ple?”

Af­ter that, the ex­ec­u­tives get to meet the horses, with whom they un­dergo a se­ries of tasks, some of which re­quire hu­mans to work as a team. Th­ese tasks test their com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills, and the au­thor­ity they com­mand with the horses.

Ex­ec­u­tives are also re­quired to change their lead­er­ship styles de­pend­ing on the na­ture of the task — or the spe­cific horse they are lead­ing.

Says Hasleder: “It’s called sit­u­a­tional lead­er­ship. When a com­pany is go­ing through

an in­no­va­tion phase, you have to lead from the front, which is the lead-by-ex­am­ple lead­er­ship style. At other times, you have to be along­side the horse, which is the ‘team ap­proach’. And some­times, you have to lead from be­hind: where the team’s ob­jec­tive is de­fined and the path is clear, and the leader just needs to goad his team into com­plet­ing the task.”

What the horses re­veal

Oc­ca­sion­ally, th­ese ses­sions re­veal hid­den as­pects of lead­er­ship that sur­prise even sea­soned ex­ec­u­tives. Hasleder re­calls: “Dur­ing one par­tic­u­lar train­ing ses­sion, there was a CEO who came across as a strong leader. He felt that one of his sub­or­di­nates was a bit of a weak­ling: that he doesn’t con­vey au­thor­ity. But while work­ing with the horses, the mid-level ex­ec­u­tive could com­plete the tasks in half the time as his boss, with­out ex­ert­ing him­self.”

In ef­fect, she says, the horses showed up the ‘weak­ling’ as the more ef­fec­tive leader!

At the end of the day-long train­ing, the ex­ec­u­tives go through the re­flec­tion process again, but this time, they rate them­selves as from the horse’s per­spec­tive. “Would the horse think you com­mu­ni­cated ef­fec­tively? Would it feel you were able to con­vey your en­thu­si­asm for the tasks?”

The take­aways

Fer­nando, who re­cently com­pleted the train­ing, speaks of the ef­fec­tive­ness of the reg­i­men. “It’s a novel pro­gramme, and is very prac­ti­cal. I gained lead­er­ship in­sights into non­ver­bal com­mu­ni­ca­tion, mo­ti­va­tion, di­rec­tion, and goal-set­ting.”

With horses and with hu­man teams, the best lead­ers get the most done with the least amount of fuss, says Hasleder. “You have to be a horse-whis­perer,” she adds. And the tes­ti­mo­ni­als from For­tune 500 com­pany ex­ec­u­tives sug­gest that in board­rooms across In­dia, the whis­per is grow­ing pro­gres­sively louder.

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