If you feel frayed or burnt out after the winter, need a new perspective on challenges you are facing, or want to explore mindfulness in the outdoors at this experiential workshop, read on.
December blog and end of year wishes
The year has been and very almost gone, with the bruise of Covid leaving a mark on our lives, its hue ever-changing but never quite disappearing completely. There have been black days, blue days and then days when just the faintest tinge showed. Many days too when the kindness of people and the magnificence of nature brought great happiness. Hopeful optimism, adaptability, perseverance and creativity have come to the fore, too. And perhaps now we appreciate much which, previously, we may have taken for granted.
A phrase which seems to have punctuated many of the conversations I’ve been involved in is ‘… something to look forward to…’ Whether at moments when someone is sharing the bleakness of losing social contact: ‘I feel as if I have nothing to look forward to …’ Or when mustering positivity for the future, a return to doing what we love doing: ‘…that will be something to look forward to … ’ This fluctuation between feeling emptiness and hopefulness, has been one of the emotional signatures for the year.
What does this ‘something to look forward to’ mean to each of us? A rest? A reward? A goal? A holiday? A buzz of adrenaline? A change? Human contact? A family get-together? An achievement? It can be many things, varying for different people at different times. But whatever it is which we gladly anticipate, the implication is that it is better than what we are experiencing right now. And expecting it makes the ‘right now’ more palatable. The future desire brings us hope, strength, excitement, resilience, perseverance.
Awareness of this reliance on looking forward to events made me reflect, too, on those in the world for whom existence is about survival and there is no place for pleasure. A deepening sense of gratitude has developed over the year for what I have, even without being able to enjoy, right now, many of the things I cherish: seeing my family including a new great-nephew, carrying out my usual work, even sitting at a local cafe with friends watching the world go by. The suspension of planning the many ‘somethings’ which, ordinarily, I would have been looking forward to has made room for a more profound savouring of the moment, a rootedness in the right now, an acceptance of changing priorities and a need for self care and the care of others.
So, as we approach the holidays, whether you are able to enjoy what you usually might have done or not, I wish you peaceful, joyful moments in which you can immerse yourself, whatever the future might hold and however the year has affected you. May the New Year too bring a newness which refreshes and finds you restored.
we will be happy to see you next year!
Equest has, for obvious reasons, not been able to offer our usual programmes during 2020. We have very much missed working with you. We have put together a number of events and opportunities for next year, which will be safe and we hope possible, depending on the pervading needs for protecting the health of all. Reconnecting and restorative development we believe, will be important for us all, and we will be offering a number of possibilities to support with this, news of which will be released in January.
Written by Stephen Parker
Chief Human Resources Officer at A.T. Kearney
You can learn a lot from a horse. I experienced this firsthand through an exercise we have built into A.T. Kearney’s Expanding Horizons leadership development program.
In the wild, horses were prey rather than predator, and so for eons before humans domesticated them 5000 years ago, hyper alertness and exceptional non-verbal communication were essential to this herd animal’s survival. By virtue of evolution, horses are remarkably good at reading the energy of any creature that might approach them.
To tap into this powerful innate ability, our program in London includes a train ride a few hours east into the Berkshire countryside, to a horse farm run by Pam Billinge and Equest. There our Partners have the chance to interact with horses under the skilled guidance of facilitators trained in Equine Assisted Learning.
I recall viscerally my own experience of this as if it were yesterday. The most basic equine exercise is to connect with an untethered horse in a paddock. An Equest facilitator explained that the proper way to say hello to a horse is by gently extending your closed hand. The horse returns the greeting by touching your hand with its muzzle. Simple enough.
One of my colleagues went first. I watched as he approached the horse, moving slowly while speaking to the carefully observant animal in a soft, reassuring tone. He then unhurriedly extended a closed hand, just as he was instructed. The horse turned away, refusing his greeting. I was puzzled. My colleague had done nothing wrong that I could see. Why had the horse not returned his hello?
My turn. As I slowly crossed the paddock toward the same horse, I was still wondering why she had turned away before…. Then it hit me! This horse was a bit on the small side, while my colleague and I are both tall men. Our height intimidates her. I consciously tried to lower my center of gravity, thinking this would help her welcome my approach. As I got closer, it seemed to work and the connection seemed imminent. I was thrilled. And I was wrong. The horse quietly turned and walked away from my extended hand.
Presence Is Key
Having since observed a range of equine encounters, I now understand that my height had nothing to do with the horse declining my hello. Rather, it was because my focus was on myself. My brain was busy adjusting my posture and congratulating myself for my cleverness at figuring out why my colleague had failed and how I would succeed. Rubbish. The key to saying hello to a horse is presence. You must be there for the animal, with all your energy focused on making the connection you seek, freeing your mind from other considerations and motives. This is the kind of connection horses offer each other. So as you approach a horse, if your mind is even a bit clouded, they may instinctively sense you as foreign and refuse your hello.
Why does that matter? Non-verbal communication matters far more than most of us realize. The Equest people like to point out that humans — a highly social animal — are actually very good at non-verbal communication. But not as good as horses. That is why horses can teach us how to develop and pay more attention to this vitally important, yet often neglected, aspect of everyday communication.
“We achieve a great many things by thinking, but thinking actually gets in the way of connecting with a horse,” observes Herve Collignon, a Paris-based A.T. Kearney partner who has visited the Equest farm. “You can only establish trust through deeply honest conviction — by truly being yourself. Of course, in the world of management consulting, establishing trust is essential. So interacting with horses proved a surprisingly relevant learning experience.”
Connection, Communication, Relationships
Here’s what horses have taught me: First, our state of mind impacts the quality of our connections and communications far more than we typically acknowledge. Second, the quality of our connections and communications shape all the human relationships we form as professionals, leaders, family members and friends. Third, it all starts with hello.
First published 23 March 2016
Stephen Parker is the first Chief Learning Officer and Global Head of Talent Management with the consulting firm A.T. Kearney where he applies his deep experience as a leadership consultant and executive coach to help his colleagues worldwide discover and apply the very best of themselves. Stephen, recently profiled in Chief Learning Officer, has advised CEOs across many industries including pharmaceuticals, technology, and consumer goods, and has designed and led multi-year leadership and culture projects for global corporations. He previously served as President of a boutique leadership consulting firm in Washington, DC and founded the Global Consulting Group for BlessingWhite, an international leadership development firm. Stephen is based in New York City and lives in Princeton, NJ.
Reflecting on this delicate process of ‘belonging’ within the herd, I was reminded how long it takes to build up real trust between two creatures or for that matter two people. That it grows organically with the seasons.
If you are doing a job which you used to love with a passion, but now leaves you uninspired and performing less well than you are used to, you might be feeling as if you have ‘lost your mojo.’
But where on earth do you start to turn things round?
Writing a book, never mind publishing one, was beyond my wildest dreams a few years ago. When someone suggested that I should do so, to tell the story of how I came to do what I do for a living, I laughed with a self deprecating tone. ‘Yeah, sure!’
Working experientially with horses you are on the fast track to mindfulness without even knowing it.
As Spring yields into summer, Suddene Park continues to be a hive of activity, not just for us but also for the wildlife we share the farm. We see the hares playing and boxing in the pastures and have a myriad of birdlife on the garden feeders, including goldfinches, chaffinches and a cadre of noisy sparrows...
Our Autumn Open Day will have the theme of mindful leadership, and how learning experientially with horses, the Equest way, can support individuals, teams and organisations to achieve exceptional change.
Ellie was old and died of heart failure which is not unusual in itself. What was rare was that she did so when I was with her, just a few feet away. Thus I was able to share both her final moments and those immediately following...
We are excited to announce that The Spell of the Horse, debut book from Pam Billinge founder and Director of Equest, will be published by Blackbird Books on 17th September 2017.
Whether you are simply curious about our approach or would like to reconnect with the magic of a previous learning experience with us, you will be most welcome at our Spring Open Day on Thursday 27 April.
The impact of this small pony on the children who worked and played with her was something really special.For adults her presence could be equally life-changing…
The first member of the team stepped out into the paddock to meet the horses he and his colleagues would be working with for the next two days. He had bravely volunteered to be the first, in spite of feeling nervous and knowing nothing about horses. I walked with him as he approached the first of the horses who was quietly grazing nearby.
Over the Easter holiday a good friend of mine came to visit me with her 9 year old daughter. Molly has just started riding lessons and was keen to meet my two horses and two miniature Shetland ponies for the first time. It turned out to be a magical day and, surprisingly for me, one filled with important lessons for not only leadership but adulthood in general.
Knowing that you want to change something, or reach for your dream is one thing. Getting on and doing it is another. One of my most inspiring lessons which helped was the gift of a young equestrian paralympian called Lauren Barwick seven years ago.
The advice I hear most in relation to that thing most of us are cursed with is “Silence the Inner Critic!”. But our inner critics have been on board a long time and it is easier said than done.
Do you ever feel like your team-mates are from another planet? Or perhaps that you are?
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