In conversation with a friend who has been on the receiving end of my leadership through the years, I gained incredible clarity yesterday. She said she used to be afraid of me. She said that she could feel the incongruence behind my smile. And you know what, she was right!
In essence, congruence means that what is on the inside is in alignment with what is on the outside. When there is incongruence, a good question to ask yourself is this, "who do I need to have a conversation with to get back into congruence?" In business, it's usually those you work with or clients. In ourselves, it's the art of self honesty and introspection.
Rather than belabor the details of my past, I want to invite you into what horses have taught me about congruence and its essential role in successful leadership.
Being liked is not the same as being trusted. When we step into a leadership role, we are invited to use our best judgement, listen to all sides, and select the direction to move. This requires discernment, humility, and a host of skills. I love the TeachingHorse model of leadership capabilities because they capture nearly everything required to do it well in four simple categories: attention, energy, direction, and congruence. For a whole host of reasons, I used to deeply need to be liked. A good example of this problem in horsemanship exists when we give treats as a means for feeling better about asking our horse to work. One of my mentors calls this "five dollar friends." Needless to say, you don't want to be one of those. In human terms, to save face and stay on someone's good side, I did what any respectable person does: I avoided confrontation, dodged uncomfortable conversations, lavished praise, and used opaque language when forced to address something. This did not build trust, this built tentative cooperation.
Leadership is most effective when it's shared. Horses know that they are safer together and they behave accordingly. They are in a constant conversation with each other about what requires their attention, where they are going, and what pace they should move at to get there. They use their collective eyes, ears, and noses to keep the herd safe. While conversation has always come easy to me, the transparency of saying what I see so that others can respond accordingly has been hard. The lack of honest sharing has meant a lack of shared leadership potential among my former herds, how can they offer good input if they're left in partial darkness?
They see leadership as roles, not ranks. They know that they need a direction setter, sentinels to lead from the side and protect the ranks, and a protector to lead from the back with the broadest possible visual perspective. They see these as roles that must be filled, not ranks that should be coveted. When a gap in formation appears, they seamlessly fill it.
Following is an act of leadership. To truly invite a following, the horse knows that free will is part of the equation. They exemplify a form of leadership that is nonpredatory, that does not coerce, but invites followership. Leadership in horse culture is earned, not taken and this requires consistent good judgement and proof of experience. Horses choose to follow and in doing so, they bestow leadership on those they trust most.
All of this was unknown to me in my former leadership roles. Don't get me wrong, I had many strengths too. I have long had the ability to perceive the motivations of others, align workflow with purpose to execute on goals, and inspire others with my enthusiasm. I've always genuinely cared about people and done my very best. But what horses have taught me has changed me so deeply that I feel like I have a different core operating system (OS). Congruence is at the center of these changes.
I am now stepping into a new leadership role with a wonderful organization. I start as COO of Karuna International Inc tomorrow and I am thrilled!
It is exciting to know that I'm taking this new operating system, the OS installed by horses, out into the world for a purpose. Karuna is creating the world's largest collective of inner child healing programs and making them accessible in price and delivery channel to as many as possible. May this chapter uplift many lives, may the learning never cease, may we all find the joy we seek.
I am in deep gratitude to my teachers, the horses, and my EAL mentors Ezra, Alyssa, and June for their willingness to work with me patiently and persistently. I will continue the work with them through my personal journey, with private clients, and in partnership with my colleagues in EAL long into the future.
Clearly we're just on mile 12 of this marathon called life.