Observing the Herd: Authentic Leadership Lessons from Horses | Weatherhead School at Case Western Reserve University

Observing the Herd: Authentic Leadership Lessons from Horses

Posted 10.4.2022

As a long-time staff member of Weatherhead Executive Education, WEE, I have a deep understanding of our programs and their content. When I first started, I would often share the same thrill of discovery as our participants as I uncovered the various insights that our faulty bring to class. As the breadth and depth of that knowledge has grown over my tenure, my thrill has switched from one of discovery to one of watching and helping our participants make those same connections. So when I was given the opportunity to spend a morning at Jackie Stevenson’s Pebble Ledge Ranch, along with another participant, I didn’t hesitate to accept. Jackie is a WEE instructor that currently teaches two programs for us: Listening Beyond What You Hear: The Practice of Engaged Listening and Embodied Leadership Presence: Authentic Impact from the Inside Out. She often invites participants to her ranch as a follow up to her programs for an opportunity to deepen and expand the learning. Having been to the ranch before, I always encourage them to take her up on the offer.

On a bright, brisk, Saturday morning we met her at the ranch where she asked us what we each hoped to achieve. Since I’d been to the ranch before, I knew this was coming. Even so, I still struggled to conceptualize and say what I wanted to do. Feeling a little embarrassed, I stumbled through my unorganized thoughts. Without missing a beat, Jackie smiled and deftly defined, ordered and summarized my goals, brought in coaching theory, emotional intelligence and neuroscience and tied it all together in just a few statements. I was blown away. I know these concepts. I sell these concepts. I never put them together like that before. We spent the rest of the morning talking through our goals and how to find new ways to approach them using the horses for practice. 

The programs she teaches focus on skills we never think deeply about or look directly in the eye. We do that because we don’t often understand how they connect with our work life. But they do. They are not “hard” skills. There are no switches to flip, dials to adjust or reports to read when it comes to learning to develop and lead with your authentic self.

As a skilled and seasoned facilitator, coach, and therapist, Jackie is a wisdom ninja. Her ability to quickly and succinctly connect, relate and summarize concepts is a thing to behold. You may not think spending time with horses is worth your while. But they have a lot to teach us about ourselves, leadership and teamwork. Peter Drucker said that “You cannot manage other people, unless you manage yourself first.” This is about beginning to manage yourself.

This essay was written by Kim Goldsberry, Asst. Director, Open Enrollment, Weatherhead Executive Education.

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