In the Co-Active Leadership program, we dive deep into the realms of Impact and how we can unintentionally mess things up without even realizing we co-created the outcome. Usually we’re not happy about it, or we find ourselves confused. The goal, of course, is to expand our range and our muscles in creating more intentional impact, a skill that’s really important in our personal and professional lives and leadership in this world! At CTI and in the Co-Active models, we call this “responsibility for Impact” and reading “what’s wanted/needed in the space.”
To this day, these skills have eluded me—yet I continue to practice. I’m pretty powerful and my heart was always in the right place, yet at times I noticed I would fail miserably with my impact, be it intended or unintended. Often this happened without any feedback concerning how I could do things differently the next time. I’ve felt frustrated, and questioned my capacity as a leader. Thanks now to my equine friends, I’m practicing these skills on a regular basis, creating powerful outcomes and deeper connection, and enrolling others like I never have before. Here’s a story I want to share that really #stuckthelanding of my unintended impact, which has me fine-tuning my Leader from the Field as well as reading energetically what’s in the space!
On that wet winter day outside Vancouver, BC, I found myself heading out to meet a new herd of horses I’d found to work with only 10 minutes from my house. I’m participating in an Equine Leadership Facilitator program, and have the requirement of weekly visits with horses to interact with and observe their behaviors. I felt like I’d won the jackpot, as this time of year it’s hard to find horses turned out in a natural herd setting. I also felt discouraged, as the horses I normally worked with were snowbound and my visits were discouraged as the horses were stall-bound. Excited, bundled in gear to keep me dry, and wearing mud boots so I could wade my way through the fields, I headed out to meet and work with my new equine friends. I hadn’t felt this excited in a long, long time and those inner doubts about “maybe this work wasn’t meant to be, for me, since I hadn’t seen a horse in over a month” were melting away.
I knew the gateway entry to the field was pure mud; therefore my first goal was to get myself into the field while keeping my boots on my feet. Forward I marched, step by step pulling each foot out of the mud, placing it in front of the other. Unlatching the gate, I trudged my way to higher ground, where I decided I would assess my surroundings. Some context—you could not see into the field from outside the gate due to huge bramble bushes surrounding the field’s entrance, nor did I choose to stop and acquaint myself with what lay beyond the gate.
Here on dry ground I turned, feeling excited to see the horses. To my horror, thundering towards me were five powerful creatures, heads held high, on full alert to the intruder in their space! Immediately I felt my chest pounding with a blend of fear and anxiety. Should I turn and run, would they hurt me, stampede over me, was I safe . . . what the heck had I done?! Never had I felt this level of anxiety in all my years sharing time and experiences with my equine friends. Breathe, Breathe, I said to myself over and over again. Calm your energy Sue, regain your connection to your body, they can feel you and read you, and you know this. Get yourself energetically grounded in your intention, now!
Here’s the kicker, actually: I never did set an intention other than my personal agenda of getting myself into the field. Whoa, this hit me like being bucked off a horses back, finding myself unsettled after the unintended dismount. It hit me—this was a repeated pattern of mine. A blind spot that had landed me in situations, maybe not so pronounced, other times in my life. The difference here was about six thousand pounds of horsepower galloping in my direction, giving me instant feedback on my impact!
Once I regained my composure and grounded myself in my body, the energy (think chi) between the herd and I changed. The horses stopped, heads high, breathing heavily; I could see the air blowing from their nostrils, looking intently in my direction assessing me further for danger. Who was this predator in their mix? Could they trust me or should they instinctually protect themselves (being the ultimate prey animal) from me, the human (master) predator who smells like the meat we eat, and who looks like a wolf or lion cat rearing on its hind feet ready for attack.
Impacted by their presence and clearly reading their messages to me, I stayed in my place. I grounded myself in my intention that I brought no harm, while feeling remorse for my impact. Things slowly settled down, and the herd moved together to a fence line while keeping a safe distance from me. The lead horse, a powerful Thoroughbred Chestnut gelding never took his eyes off me, no matter the smallest movement I made. From a couple of hundred yards away, I was kept at bay and given no indication that they welcomed me coming any closer. We stayed like this for close to an hour.
This quiet, distant time alone gave me the opportunity to reflect, with sadness, at the fact that I scared these animals and presented myself as something they needed to fear. What were my intentions? I had made none in relation to them. Energetically, I never took the time to nonverbally communicate anything to the herd, as I was in my head. Intellectually I know that ninety percent of all communication is non-verbal, yet I failed to practice this muscle I was growing that our culture rarely uses. I was communicating only with myself, in my own bubble.
I love horses; I’m a horsewoman. I love animals, and never in my wildest dreams would I want to bring them harm or concern for me. Yet here in my passion, in my excitement of having a herd to work with, I never took the time to consider the impact and connection I wanted to make with these animals. I had a personal agenda, was fully left-brain operating, and I failed to create authentic connection until they were thundering down upon me in response to my behavior. I couldn’t help but ask myself where else I was having this kind of unintended impact in my life and relationships.
I felt tears come to my eyes—what a wonderful lesson I was being given. I came into this Equine Leadership Facilitator program knowing I would learn enhanced ways of being in relationship with myself and my world, learning from these masters of non-verbal communication and consensual leadership. You see, horses have evolved to understand and respond to the flow of vital energy–chi–around them, using it in their body language to communicate with members of their herd, to express dominance, and to sense danger from nearby predators. Never did I expect to have such wisdom and learning played out for my benefit, in understanding how I showed up and my growth edge in my personal leadership development.
I feel blessed to be on this journey with my equine partners, a journey of understanding and mastering relationships, opening the potential of my emotional, intuitive right brain while growing our leadership, starting first with the Leader Within.