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Leadership with horsepower 3
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Leadership with horsepower 3

Self-direction? Within the fences, you are allowed to be wild!

A leader grants their people the freedom to make mistakes, just as a parent should do with their children. But letting go is far from “leaving it to chance.” A leader must be there.

Recently, I wanted to groom White Knight. Normally, my horse thoroughly enjoys it. I believe it feels like a massage to him. However, this time he wasn’t in the mood. He kept moving around. He couldn’t stay still.

A dominant leader would make him stand still. But I could sense that he didn’t want that. White Knight is going through his adolescence. He’s bursting with energy. That’s why I decided to let him run freely within the confines of the paddock. This way, he could release his excess energy before we went for a walk.

In the video accompanying this blog, you can see how he enjoys it: a young and lively horse weighing over 750 kilograms, leaping off the ground.

You still there?

A strong leader allows freedom within carefully defined boundaries. White Knight stays within the enclosure. He knows: Fred wants me to listen outside the fences, but inside, I can move as I please. However, him having freedom doesn’t mean that my horse ignores me. As you can see, he keeps coming back and seeks connection, as if asking, “Are you still there for me?”

A leader continuously and actively shows that he or she is there to prevent employees from becoming uncertain. It is an art to ask the right question at the right time. Like with my colleague who is handling an challenging task. He did a great job in the first enthusiastic months. However, after such a flying start, the energy could diminish, and routine could set in. That’s the moment for me to check how things are going. Are you still feeling good and confident?

A leader gives their people the freedom to make mistakes, just as a parent should with children. But letting go is far from ‘leaving things to chance’. A leader needs to be there.

Peter Geelen

Loosening the reins

Leadership is labor-intensive. You have to invest in people. If a leader loosens the reins too much, things can go wrong. This risk exists, for example, in self-managing teams, which I experimented with in a Duyvis factory in the previous century. I discovered that clear boundaries are essential. A leader must inspire, monitor, and adjust. You can’t let go of it, and you don’t want to. The culture requires constant maintenance: work can be boring, people bring their personal lives into it, or the focus fades away.

Those who provide too little leadership will see that people fill that space themselves. They start doing whatever they feel like doing. This leads to an unpleasant culture. People may talk about each other instead of with each other. They do things that are not in the best interest of the organization.

You can hold a CEO accountable for deviant behavior in the workplace. They should timely observe when people are not adhering to core values or other agreements. After identifying the issue, correction should follow. Encourage people to comply with the agreements and do what is best for the organization.

Avoid micromanagement

I intentionally mentioned that leaders should inspire their people. This is very different from instructing them. Once a colleague is trained, instructions are rarely necessary. Too many leaders behave as know-it-alls, telling their people how to do their daily work. Such micromanagement is detrimental: capabilities remain untapped, and the culture becomes defensive. Employees seek approval for everything. They don’t take action without the boss’s stamp of approval.

A leader continuously maintains boundaries. With my horse, it includes not only the fence but also my personal space. I don’t want White Knight to come too close and check my pockets for treats. I establish – kindly yet firmly – minimum and maximum distances between us, for example, when we go for a walk in the forest. If my horse gets too close, I make a connection and say “ho!” If I’m not clear about it, there could be 750 kilograms on top of me later.

At the workplace in a company, the leader also determines where the boundaries lie. Within those boundaries, colleagues can navigate. If you are clear, they will intuitively know when they should approach you…


  • Are the boundaries I set clear enough and am I giving enough space?
  • Are my people asking for forgiveness or permission?
  • Am I humble enough? Or do I tend to claim successes?
  • Do I take a poor culture personally?
  • Do I inspire or instruct?
  • Do I encourage my people to exhibit the desired behavior?
  • Do I demonstrate exemplary behavior?
  • Do I ask the right questions at the right time?

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