I have recently started to learn to ride Western style at Loose Reins, Shillingstone, Dorset, after fifty years of riding the English way. This has sparked some thoughts on leadership traits for me, which I would like to share with you as I progress through my learning. If you disagree with any of my conjectures, please do let me know.
I have had two very bad falls in recent years, which led me to give up on riding. However, I missed it enormously. I then, by chance, learnt of Loose Reins, a new establishment offering Western riding. I decided to give it a go. The contrast was immense. It rebuilt my confidence to get back in the saddle. (A much larger and more comfortable one than an English saddle, I have to say!)
How often in business do we have bad experiences as a leader and our confidence is damaged? It takes courage to get back in there, learn from our mistakes and give it another go. (“or stupidity” as my friends and family told me when I said I was riding again!)
Riding and Leadership Styles?
In the very first lesson, the comparison between the two styles of riding and two styles of leadership struck me. (I really need to switch off from work!)
English riding, from my experience, is based on control through the bit and pressure of your legs on the horse. It is about command and control. You are constantly telling the horse what to do. The horse’s head is held in an upright position with short reins, which is not a natural position for the horse.
The similarities with ‘command and control’ style leadership came to mind, where there is constant pressure on the worker to perform and micro-managing can occur. The employees are not permitted to work in a comfortable way for them, although, like the horses, they can learn to cope with this.
Western riding is using loose reins with little contact with the bit. (Some Western bridles have no bit). The rein is laid on the horse’s neck to command a turn. A short clear instruction is given and it is the release from that that is the main motivation for the horse to obey. You are encouraging the horse to think for itself. The horse’s paces tend to be slower, but are made for stamina. (The American Quarter horse is the fastest horse over a quarter of a mile though) The horse also moves with its head held low, which is more comfortable for long term work.
To me, this is much more like empowering leadership, where there is a culture of trust and self motivation for employees to set their own performance levels. There tends to be less stress and a more comfortable working
environment. Management only requires to check progress and add reminders from time to time or letting them know if things need to change.
Why the differences?
The two styles of riding have developed over the years to meet different requirements. The Western cowboy would be travelling very long distances in remote locations for long periods of time. A cowboy would be focused on tasks such as lassoing cattle and working at high speed returning animals to the herd. His mind and hands would be full on the task. He needed to trust his horse to be able to think on its feet.
Leaders in modern business have so much on their plate. They need to be focused on achieving the vision and the goals and therefore need to be able to trust their team to know what they have to do and get on with it. They haven’t got time to micro-manage. Trust and a ‘loose rein’ can produce a better partnership for the long term.
In both styles of riding, the horses need to be trained to understand the commands. Problems tend to occur with lack of or poor training; in either the rider or the horse. The rider needs to respect the horse and role model the style and outcomes that he/she wants.
Similarly, in business, we need to lead in a way that demonstrates respect and will train our employees to deliver the type of behaviours we need. It is vital to role model those behaviours ourselves. The risk is that if we don’t get the behaviours we want, we will revert to greater control. I will discuss this in more detail in my next article.
Are you a ‘loose rein’ leader? Would you like to know more? Then contact us or sign up to watch this space.
‘Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail’ Ralph Waldo Emerson
Read the follow up article to this one here: Learning More from Loose Rein Leadership
Also published on Medium.