Assertive Loose Rein Leadership

n the third of this series on Loose Rein Leadership, the theme is being assertive. It focuses on how you can learn empowering leadership skills from Western horsemanship. Asserting yourself effectively is a challenging life skill. It means you can express your own concerns and feelings calmly without making the other person defensive. It is about getting to a win-win situation.

Sometimes we learn what we least expect to. In my last riding lesson with Martine Drabkova, at Loose Reins, I learnt more about myself than riding. Horses are amazing at giving you direct and honest feedback.

In the workplace, how often do your team give you honest constructive feedback on your leadership skills?

Loose rein

Although highly trained, the horses know when there is a less competent rider on board and will see what is the least they can get away with. On the other hand, with Martina, you can see they respect and trust her, are listening to everything she tells them; and want to do what she asks.

Do your team respect you and do what you ask them to do? The minimum performance you allow is the maximum you can expect. Do your team give you their best potential or are they taking you for a ride?

The horse that I was riding was not responding well to my instructions and was going slowly. He was doing the minimum required to meet my commands. Martina explained that I was not being clear and assertive enough in my directions. My message was messy and accommodating. (overly sympathetic)

This was ironic, as that night at Casterbridge Speakers Club; I was delivering a speech on being assertive, which involved a role play with the audience. My evaluator told me that my call to action was not clear or firm enough. I thought I had been. It goes to show that we don’t always see ourselves as others do. It can be helpful to get effective feedback on how we are doing.

How clear and assertive are you when you ask people to do something? How do you know? The message needs to be clear, confident and concise. You also need a level of compassion if you are going to get to win-win. There is a balance between that and being too soft or too hard.

In the inspirational film, Buck, which is a documentary about Buck Brannaman, a unique American ‘horse whisperer’, again I could see so many parallels between working with horses and leadership of people. He says, “Your horse is a mirror to your soul, and sometimes you may not like what you see. Sometimes, you will”

By looking at how your team are behaving, it can tell you much about yourself and your leadership style.

Buck explains that he doesn’t spend his time helping people solve horse problems; he helps horses solve their people problems. This is because too often the people are working without proper training or good role models, and/or they have their own issues. It is possible to project our own beliefs or fears onto others

I would endorse that, as over the years as a trainer; there are many times I have been working to help delegates solve their manager problems. This is not a criticism of the managers, who often have been promoted without being given people management training or have had poor role models. It is said there are no bad employees, just bad managers. This may not always be true, but many issues in the workplace relate to leadership styles and management techniques. As leaders, perhaps we need to be trained to be ‘people whisperers’.

I have learnt from Martina and Buck that there is a difference between being firm and being hard. This is the same as being assertive rather than aggressive; or using power rather than force. It is also about being fair. You will not get the best from horses or people if you force them to do it. The mind cannot focus on the message and fear at the same time. If a horse or person is afraid, then they will mentally ‘shut down’. Both need to feel safe to have clear thoughts and trust you.  A great quote from the Leadergrow website is “The absence of fear is the incubator of trust.”

As a manager or leader, you can be afraid too of a person or a situation. Being constantly under pressure can cause the brain to ‘freeze’ or stop thinking effectively.  The risk is that when we are under pressure, we can become frustrated and use more force to get what we want. Alternatively, if we fear conflict, we may be too accommodating and ‘fluffy’ in our request.

Being assertive is about being confident and getting to a win-win outcome. This means that both sides are happy with the result. It may not be exactly what they want, but there is agreement. It is about being empathic to each others’ needs and communicating authentically in the negotiation. Being self aware of the impact you are having is also important.


To have assertive loose rein leadership to gain the best performance from people, you need to

  • Create a safe environment for clear thinking and trust
  • Earn their respect by being assertive and fair
  • Give a clear concise message of what you require
  • Listen, empathise and work towards a win-win outcome.

Please add your thoughts or experiences of this in the comments

To learn more about being assertive and loose rein leadership, please contact us.

Also published on Medium.

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