Every executive board needs a good horse

15th November by Lee Robertson

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Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

A wise woman once said that every board needs a good horse. A horse? Yes, curious? Then if you want aligned teams and change-ready leaders, you need to hear what leadership coach Jude Jennison, one of the speakers at the inaugural Great Leadership Reset conference has to say.

For Jennison, our equine friends are masters of non-verbal communication and just like coaches, are pretty effective at holding a mirror up to show the invisible forces at play for leaders and their teams.

She is very much a voice of our time and shares some indispensable insights in her current body of written work. Sage advice is aplenty in titles including ‘Leading Through Uncertainty’, ‘Leadership Beyond Measure’ and most recently ‘Opus’ which will be the main focus of her presentation at the Great Leadership Reset virtual conference on 24 November.

Firstly, a little bit about Jude Jennison. She has led teams for over three decades, in the UK, Europe and worldwide. As a former senior leader at IBM, she led a budget of $1billion and reduced it by 25% over two years and implemented a skills strategy for 28,000 employees across Europe. Running her own business, Leaders by Nature, for over a decade, she now provides leadership and team development to senior leaders and executive teams.

She has developed over 4,000 leaders and teams through disruptive change and uncertainty and believes work should be life-enhancing for all and that business can resolve all of the world’s problems.

Whether you have spent a lifetime leading teams, or are newly promoted to a team leader position, the learnings due to be shared by Jennison can help you to reflect on your behaviours and give you pause for thought in how you can help drive or hinder team performance.

She says it starts with leaders and teams having the skills to work in harmony with themselves and each other so they can collaborate together to do great things. It is through her equine facilitated leadership work with her herd of horse that the default patterns of leadership behaviour are shown as the horses respond to your non-verbal communication and teamwork.

In Opus which is dedicated to the hidden dynamics of team performance, Jennison asks a simple, but powerful question – Is your senior leadership team fully aligned and ready for fast-paced change?

It is subject matter that every leader or manager should be asking of themselves if they are not already doing so, especially as leadership shifts to being more collaborative with a transition from “me” to “we”.

Her approach of engaging clients with the horses reveals what can be hiding in plain sight. So if the leader is dominant and overbearing, or if the team are out of alignment, the horses will mirror those dynamics which can easily sabotage effective team performance but which otherwise might remain unspoken.

According to Jennison, one of the hidden dynamics of successful team performance is to learn when it is right to lead from the front, from the middle or from the back. This helps the leader and their team to better align, have more clarity, direction and focus and take more responsibility and accountably for results.

There are still pockets of leadership though which operate on the old fashioned and autocratic hero leader basis. In order to achieve true high performance in a team setting, leaders need to be courageous in letting go of this outdated management style.

Instead, leaders need to draw on better self-awareness, relational awareness and field awareness. Wellbeing, compassion and an appreciation and understanding of energy and emotions need to inform the leadership style so that trust, transparency and openness is achieved for the team’s collective benefit.

In OPUS much of what Jennison shares should resonate with leaders because it focuses on the presence an individual has, and with senior leadership teams who want to be more authentic and truer to themselves and their people. Her work is developed specifically for team leaders or senior executives who want practical and easily actionable frameworks to create high functioning teams that are agile and operate with transparency, trust and openness.

Like so many others, Jennison wants to see ‘leadership and teamwork that is so tangible and palpable that we feel it and know that change is inevitable.’ She believes that we need to establish a deeper level of connection for the sake of mental wellbeing, the benefit of humanity and making a difference in the world.

The question is, do you?