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The essential joy of being with horses is that is brings us into contact with the elements of grace, beauty, spirit, and fire. --Sharon Ralls Lemon

21 Lessons in Leadership from an Uncommon Master

--by Kelly Wendorf, syndicated from equussantafe.com, Feb 13, 2018

Frédéric Pignon is a gifted horseman, artist and the original visionary behind the world-renowned equine spectacular Cavalia. I recently had the good fortune of learning from him during a clinic here in New Mexico. In poignant serendipity, his US tour was a last-minute solution to the French government’s continued cancellation of large events (including his) in response to terror attacks.

If you watch Frédéric on stage, you’ll see him amidst many fiery horses, freely expressing themselves alongside him in expertly choreographed musical unison—a breathtaking improvisational display of love, passion, reciprocity and trust in action. It is said that most men weep when beholding Frédéric and his equine team. To the audience eye, one might say these horses are masterfully trained.

But if you were to watch him as I did, in a more modest setting— peering through the bars of a dusty round-pen in a Northern New Mexico Indian reservation on an icy cold and windy November day—you would discover something more powerful:

He does not train horses. He inspires them.

Riveted to the edge of my seat for hours, I watched as Frédéric engaged in quiet communion with one humble backyard horse after another. There in the micro-moment between a horse’s ‘no’ and a true ‘yes’, my world gently and miraculously unraveled.

Frédéric and his wife, Magali Delgado, travel the world performing and leading horsemanship and dressage clinics. Magali dazzles audiences with her ability to perform high-level dressage moves without so much as a bridle. Together the duo invite humanity into an altogether different approach to relationship. Their philosophy towards horses is actually a way of life: love, respect and understanding, patience and trust as the basis of connection to all things.

As the hours passed, bundled against the elements in layers of coats and blankets, I began to hear not only some profoundly transformative lessons on optimal horsemanship, but on leading, living and relating.

With holidays nearing, and our work days intensifying in preparation, and as we immerse ourselves in family and friends, I thought to share these uncommon lessons with you as my seasonal offering.

I’ve distilled 21 for you below:

1. Do not dominate, but guide and inspire – loyalty, trust and co-creation can only truly come from a true ‘yes’ from the other. The key is to inspire the other to want to be their best selves, and to enjoy what you are inviting them into.

2. Remove fear and obligation from your lexicon – neither lead with it, nor be lead by it. Dignity for all parties is the only way to live.

3. Improvise rather than choreograph – think about your time with the other as a blank canvas on which you will both paint. Rather than plow ahead with your plans and agenda, be acutely present to the influences of the other, and co-create.

4. Connection is more valuable than obedience.

5. Take the time needed to build trust – the link between you and the other is fragile. It is built link by link, moment by moment. And creating trust takes time, slowness, and presence.

6. Do not let your dreams and ambitions eclipse your happiness in the moment. The only way to achieve your dreams and ambitions is to see the beauty in the reality of what you have in this moment.

7. Stop being a leader (or partner, wife, mother, father, husband, etc) – your concepts and ideas of what it means to be these things gets in the way of just truly being with others in the moment. It adds stress and tension, and trust is not built with stress and tension.

8. Sometimes let the other ‘win’ – when you listen to and honor the edges and comfort level of the other, you are actually winning too… you are winning their trust and confidence.

9. If the other disconnects, keep your connection with them alive anyway – resist the temptation to disconnect or ‘treat the other as they treat you’ when they disconnect. Someone has to rekindle the connection, and it may as well be you.

10. A task ‘well done’ by you or the other with tension or resentment is not a task well done. Re-assess tasks and accomplishments by how much ease, joy, freedom and happiness are within them.

11. Assist the other to be their best self, that is…more confident, self-contained and beautifully expressive.

12. Ninety-five percent of leadership and loving is your inner state, 5% is what you do or say –the other attunes to what we feel inside, the energy we contain. It doesn’t matter if you use the right tool, or do the ‘right’ thing, if your energy is unclear, or ambiguous or distorted, it will not work.

13. Be masterful with your inner state - be clear and precise with your internal state. Be deliberate about how that inner state is applied to the other. Don’t be sloppy.

14. Start with a mental picture – what ever you want to achieve, start with a clear mental picture. Your body, thoughts, and energy will follow and line up. And you will create from there.

15. It’s not necessary to ‘end on a good note’ – this adds more pressure and tension. The best ‘note’ is in listening to the other, and letting things stop there. The fact that you listened builds trust.

16. Boundaries are essential – your message to the other is always:  ‘be free, be happy, we can be together in that, but there are rules to such engagement and one of them is you cannot harm me in your freedom’.

17. Celebrate small successes more often – everyone loves to know they were successful at something. Have an eye for all the small successes and recognize them warmly.

18. Listen to what the other needs – so when you encounter another, your first question to ask yourself is, ‘what do they need?’. When this is your first question, then your engagement with them is caring and safe. This liberates creativity.

19. Be humble and gracious – this is true empowerment. It doesn’t matter if you are speaking to an important world dignitary, or a homeless person on the street. Everyone deserves the highest regard.  

20. Don't be the best – just be the best human you can be. Sincerity of heart outweighs skill.

21. Forget about work / life differentiation - be a good human in all endeavors, your truest self, your most present self. Why would you be different in your work than in the rest of your life?

May we be closer to our kindest humanity this season. May we listen more, speak less, inspire more and control less. May we be joyful. May we evoke joy in others. 

This article originally appeared in EQUUS and is republished with permission. EQUUS is an innovative self-mastery and inspired leadership process for individuals and organizations whose work has been validated by thought leaders of the business community around the world, and recognized as a key differentiator in the art of teaching essential yet elusive organizational and personal change concepts.    


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