CG #65 – To Lead or Include, that is the Question

Getting a task done well and on time no matter who I trample, or losing my way in the messiness of including others:  Is it just me, or is this the primary dilemma of leaders everywhere?


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Armani taking a fence.

 CG #65 –  To Lead or Include, That’s the Question

My coaches in this matter are beings who have resolved this dilemma:  Horses.  Horses are herd animals who never lose sight of what they want.  They don’t trample their relationship to each other or their place in the herd to get it either.  It’s extraordinary to work with them.

I have a human coach too, and my task today is to “get a horse to put his head down without touching him.”

We were in a big barn for this, and I’m terrified of getting in little stalls with big horses.  The horses are trapped, and I’m trapped with them.  I do it, but I always   have to push my fear aside.  This time, I take the fear with me into Armani’s stall.

I approach Armani radiating a clear intention “Will you put your head down for me?”  I know I can use coercive horsemanship to wrestle his head down a little or bribe it down with food, but that’s not what I’m after.  I want Armani to put his head down because he chooses to do as I ask.

I’m pretty sure this is what leaders want, too.

When I walk in, Armani is standing against one of the stall walls.  I walk over to stroke his neck and immediately feel uncomfortable.  He is tense and watchful – it is subtle, but I can see it in his body and feel it in the pit of my stomach.  I realize I have him pinned against the wall, not the best position for eliciting voluntary behavior.

I think leaders have this problem too:  Our employees are pinned against the wall of the power we have over their lives.  Whether or not we want to admit it, every time we talk to an employee, only one of us has the power to fire the other.

I want to feel my discomfort rather than push it aside where it might cause me to coerce Armani, and I still have to get the task done, so I stand there feeling uncomfortable.  I just started and I’m already stuck.

My human coach says:  “Back off and give him some room.  Ask him to come to you.” I feel relieved, and say “Thank you – I was uncomfortable, but wasn’t sure what to do.”  I take three steps back and Armani follows me like we are glued together.  He relaxes visibly.  I relax.  I say, “I want you to put your head down, but I will not force you,” and Armani exhales and sways toward me. 

My coach and another colleague get so excited about this that Armani walks past me and sticks his head out to see what all the fuss was about. My coach says, “Now you’ve got a new task.  How do you get his head back inside the stall?”

(You’ve probably never had this happen to you, that someone you’re leading gets distracted by something more lively, interesting or urgent.)

I say “I know how to get him to back up – to make him – but I don’t want to do that.  Armani, I want you to come back in.” Armani steps back into his stall and lowers his head, holding it there.

I’m a little blown away with how beautiful that moment is, so I stand there taking it in.  The task was a red herring – maybe it always is.  Maybe the task is just the vehicle for the relationship to bloom and take your breath away.   Because that’s what happened:  My refusal to harm Armani and his generous response broke my heart open.

I reach out to stroke Armani’s neck and he keeps his head down.  As gratitude wells up in me, Armani swings his head up and looks me in the eye.  His eyes had gone clear and the boundaries between us dissolved.  I think he was grateful to not be bossed, grateful to have the chance to show me his generous heart.  I know I was grateful to see it.

After I left Armani’s stall I realized I hadn’t been afraid since I said: “Thank you.  I was uncomfortable and wasn’t sure what to do.”

If you’d like to try this with a human, here are the steps:

1. I did not let the task, the time pressure or my audience make me a bully.

2. I refused to choose,  Instead, I held on to the task and the invitation equally.

3. I accepted help.

4. I noticed and responded accordingly.