M = Master Communicators

“The Art of Communication is the Language of Leadership” – James Humes

Today we are going to examine the second IMPACTFUL leadership trait that horses have taught me and that is M = Master Communications.

Communication is the life blood of any organisation/relationship and yet time and time again I witness poor communication taking place whether it be the leader failing to explain his vision for the company or the team member too scared to communicate with their boss how they are feeling.  If a leader has an inability to communicate leaves team members in a state of turmoil, uncertain what is happening and this invariably leads to stress and anxiety. And everyone is affected, our friends, family and work colleagues are also impacted by the troubled state we get ourselves into because communication is about so much more than just words.

I’ll never forget the first time that the work of UCLA psychology professor Albert Mehrabian was shared with me.  It was such an eye opener for me and helped me understand why in the past some of my team members had described me as “scary”.  I just never understood that as until this point I had misguidedly believed I was one of the most approachable and friendly people there was in the office. What Albert Mehrabian discovered was that face-to-face communication can be broken down into three components:

  • Words
  • Tone of Voice
  • Body Language

And when verbal and non-verbal messages are not consistent, what people see us do and the tone we use can far outweigh the words that we use.  Furthermore he noted that when feelings and attitudes are being communicated then:

  • What we say accounts for only 7% of what is believed
  • The way we say it accounts for 38%
  • What others see accounts for 55%

Amazingly, this means that more than 90% of the impression that we often convey has nothing to do with what we actually say and this is why great leaders understand the importance of listening.  For me the realisation that it was not what I said that was important was somewhat damming and depressing, because up to that point I had been spending hours figuring out the best thing to say to my team members. In that instance I realised it was not so much what I said that was important but how I said it. My body language was so important.  Not surprising then that some of my team thought I was “scary”, on reflection my body language was like a coiled spring ready to explode as I rushed round the office, always busy doing something, never stopping, focused on my own goals and failing to see the impact my actions were having on others.

What horses help us understand is how our body language is influencing others.  I remember back in 2004 when I was working full time in London and had my first horse. I never saw him apart from the weekend as making the near two hour journey to and from London daily just meant I never had time to see my horse during the week – it was dark when I left home in the morning and dark when I got home at night.  So weekends were a precious time for me.  A time to ride my horse but also to get all the household chores done for the week – cleaning, ironing, shopping – my weekends were packed and I lived on a tight military schedule.  Typically I allocated a two hour slot on both weekend days to go and get my horse in from the field, where he was kept, groom him, ride him and then turn him out again. For a whole summer I was never able to catch my horse!!  I didn’t understand at the time but if you are grazing in a field full of grass and someone approaches you marching full speed ahead, high energy would you want to stay around and engage with it.  I think not and my horse Toby thought the same.  It would take many months for me to realise that I needed to lower my energy and make my body language softer and more inviting before my horse would consider engaging with me.

In fact what I was doing was being “scary”, just like I did at work.  The difference was that Toby, my horse, told me in no uncertain terms what he thought about my body language by running away, something my team members were less inclined to do.  Those lessons he taught me were invaluable in how to have a more approachable approach to people and situations because if you are not approachable no one will engage with you and you will be unable to communicate and connect effectively. This is the power of Horse Assisted Coaching as you get the unbiased, immediate feedback from the horse.  He does not know or indeed care what position you hold in your work herd, he reacts only to the situation put before him and the energy, intention and body language that you present.  There is no pretence here. Unlike team members who might be reticent to speak out the horse just reacts to what you present him with, but beware the outcome might not be to your taste!

So what mixed messages are you putting out as a leader and how could you improve your leadership by becoming more aware of how you communicate with others.

Extract from Unbridled Success – How The Secret Lives of Horses Can Impact Your Leadership, Teamwork and Communication Skills.  You can purchase the book here from Amazon


On November 9th, 2012, posted in: Communication by

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