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Leadership with horsepower 2
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Leadership with horsepower 2

Showing ‘vulnerability’

A good leader is aware of his energy. He remains relaxed and is willing to be open, even about uncertainties. I learned this in the business world and from horses, particularly from my current horse, D’Arcy’s White Knight.

The search for a successor for Guinness (see previous blog) took a long time. Because finding a friend is different from buying a new car. When I saw D’Arcy’s White Knight, a young horse from Ireland, standing in a meadow in Drenthe, I was sold. I knew it: we would embark on the adventure together. At just four years old, he was still young, had the right physique, and responded very well to my actions. I sensed a pleasant character in him. He made it clear that he wasn’t enjoying himself and rather sluggishly entered my trailer.

From that moment on, we built a bond together. My empathy had not let me down. A year and a half after the purchase, that listlessness is gone. White Knight is a cheerful and outgoing horse with a pleasant character. He is full of energy, fearless, and has a strong will. He plays and fools around with other horses. He has truly become a friend. 

High sensitivity

From horses, I learn to rely on my intuition and feelings. It starts with the selection process. I enjoy doing it carefully and attentively. This applies not only to horses, by the way. When choosing candidate colleagues, I also take my time. Fortunately, this process is faster with people because you can ask questions. However, verbal communication is not necessarily more important than non-verbal communication.

During an initial encounter with a candidate colleague, I observe, actively listen, speak less, and try to “sublisten.” How will he or she be a year from now, in the circumstances we create for them? This requires estimation, imagination, experience, and intuition. People with high sensitivity can make a difference. It is strange, therefore, that the recruitment and selection process relies heavily on CV selection, competency and behavior-based interviewing, profiles, and assessments.

A good leader is aware of his energy

Peter Geelen

Bruised ribs

What I also learn from White Knight is how I am towards others. He mirrors my emotions. I get my state of mind and behavior reflected back from him. A good example is the first time I put a saddle on him – which later turned out to not fit properly. I sat on it while I was in a hurry and tense. I paid the price for it: White Knight bucked and jumped until I fell off. I spent three months with bruised ribs. Quite inconvenient when laughter is one of your hobbies.

I am more careful now. Before I approach my horse, I adjust my energy. If I am calm, he becomes calm too. If I am relaxed and cheerful, he rides exceptionally well.

Atmosphere of tranquility and trust

Thanks to my horse, I realize even more that my state of mind and behavior always influence the energy of others. In my daily practice in the business world, I encounter leaders who are unaware that their state of mind and their style affect others. What energy do you bring into the room? How big or how small is your ego? How do people around you perceive you? How you enter a room is crucial, especially in challenging situations. The energy of a true leader can make or break the moment. It determines whether we solve a problem or engage in conflict. It’s about being true to yourself. Creating an atmosphere of peace and trust around you.

Not only horses but also people mirror you. However, due to power dynamics or the culture within an organization, this is often not visible. Or leaders lack the courage to be themselves. My advice is always: just be yourself, listen more, talk less, let go, and show emotions. It’s all allowed. Leaders quickly assume a role and don’t let on when they don’t know something. I say: just admit it. You are then open about what we all already know: no one holds the truth. We all have our limitations and depend on each other.

Just a calculation: if you lead a unit, let’s say 50 people and they have an average of 10 years of experience, there is a total of 500 years of experience. You as a leader with your, say, 25 years of experience don’t know all the solutions. Together you do. Only together can you be successful. Limit yourself to the direction, content, inspiration and follow-up. Active listening is essential.

Transparent time

Being open about what you don’t know has nothing to do with ‘vulnerability’. This term was often used in the past when openness was less common. The transparent time we live in now requires a style in which people are honest with themselves and about themselves. So, from now on, let go of the term ‘being vulnerable’ and lead, observe, listen, inspire, and create an environment where your teams accomplish things they never thought was possible.

Sooner or later, people (and if not them, your horse) will see through you.

Fred Vijvers

Next month: Leadership with Horsepower 3, Freedom and Joy.

Questions for you as a leader:

Do I truly know myself as a leader well enough? Do I understand my energy and non-verbal influence on others?

Do I rely on external factors, such as appearances, resumes, and empty talk when assessing candidates? Or do I trust my instincts and judgment regarding their true potential in the circumstances I will create for them?

What energy do you bring into the space? How big is my ego?

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