Leading and Following

The Movement Between

Sitting reflecting. I am a week into Living Alive Phase I, just after finishing The Haven Leadership Summit and I find myself reflecting on leading and following.

For some this may seem a bit to Haven focused. Bare with me, or better yet, apply to your own experiences with being deeply engaged in learning, work or some aspect of your life that has been very familiar and involves discovering that you as leader might need to grow and yet also stay in some ways the same!

During the Summit the idea of leadership and followership had come up and I was intrigued and reminded of how much my own journey as a leader has been about discovering the dance between leading and following. There is both an internal aspect and movement that occurs, as well as the external shift from being in a role as leader and as follower.

For me, as I have become more comfortable in my own skin, and to be clear this can be comfortable in discomfort, I find myself much more fluid in leading and following.

Of course there are moments when I am struck by my own strong agenda or vision for what I want to have happen. I like that about myself. I like having a vision and being willing to stand forth and offer a direction. It’s a bit like my belief about judgements. That I am judgemental, I like. I enjoy using my ability to imagine, assume and discern. I also enjoy meeting and ‘clashing’ with new information and someone else’s assumptions. I notice when I am okay in my beliefs, I am quite open to the bump of a new view and can integrate the new information. When I am not so okay with myself, I can tend to fight or flight in some attempt to stay right!. I am finding this is a similar dance in leading and following.

Over the years as a faculty member at The Haven, I have had strong views on what is important and foundational, what needs to stay the same and what seems ‘special’ about our way of approaching group dynamics, aliveness and energy. I recognize that I have at times been defended and quite unwilling to embrace something I judged to be outside of the playing field I called Haven.

I have shifted in more recent years. Some of the shift has come from my exploration of new ways of thinking and experiencing growth. Some of the shift, as been because I keep hearing that others want something different and as someone in a role of leadership I want to be open and receptive.

At the Summit, I noticed so many new faces, new voices speaking up about diversity, leadership, youth, eldership, training, counseling, educating and embodiment. I found myself integrating much of the input into my understanding of The Haven, filtering new theories or thoughts into ways of thinking and embodying that have been so useful to me over the years.

At times it was exciting and I could feel the expansion and inclusion happening both inside me and around me in the room and online. Other times, I noticed my own contraction and fear that there was too much desire for change or something new. At times I spoke of my resistance and at times I simply sat with myself and wondered.

Of course with the Living Alive Phase starting hours after stepping out of the Summit, I have had an opportunity to notice what am I including now as I lead and what might I have dropped.

In truth, I love the Living Alive Phase I format. I find both structure and freedom in what has been a core Haven program for well over thirty years. Yet, I also have moments of wanting to introduce something new or noticing someone is leading us into something new and I have that choice to follow or not.

I am aware of my tendency to get swallowed into my world of The Haven and lose contact with the much larger world around me. So on a day when I have some extra time, I enjoy pulling myself out of my Haven world of leading and following and checking to see what is happening in the world around me.

I would love to hear from you and what does leading and following mean in your world. Is leading a role? Is following a different one? Do you dance in your own life between the these concepts? Are there areas of your life that are working and could use some new and fresh ideas? How do you grow and keep what works?

I’d love to hear from you.

Learning About Leadership From Horses

I love watching a herd of horses. There is so much going on and yet it can all seem so subtle.

Today, I sat and watched a herd of geldings for thirty or forty minutes. There were 15 in the herd. Their space had recently been downsized due to a need to seed an area for future use.

Thirteen of the horses were gathered in relatively small area. Most were standing with their front legs locked and shifting the weight on their back legs. They almost seemed asleep, were it not for the flick of a ear, usually directed at me. Yes, they knew I was watching as soon as I had moved towards the pasture.

I settled and took in the larger scene. Two of the geldings were off from the herd, grazing. Their ears were also trained on my position. It is amazing how subtle and keenly perceptive horses are to any movement in their environment.

When I first started watching horses I would hardly notice the little movements. Now, I was getting much better at picking up when one of the horse would make a very small shift backwards, pushing the horse behind him ever so slightly. Today, I could see that the signal was not at all subtle to the horse receiving it.

Pretty much everything about the arrangement was an intricate communication network where there were clear lines of dominance and order. Where boundaries were being set with minuscule gestures and smaller connections were well established even if undetected by the my human eye.

I realized as I was watching, I was learning a great deal about leadership. I have often thought of leadership in terms of dominance, who had the loudest gestures or offered the loftiest vision. We as humans tend to think of leadership in those terms.

But really leadership has a lot more to do with who amongst us is really the calmest, clearest and most embodied. In a herd of horses, there may be a dominate horse but that has little to do with the leader. No the leader in a herd of horses, is the horse that is calmest, and most embodied. It may not always be the same horse, in today’s gathering there was one gelding that stood slightly away from larger group between the cluster and the two grazers. If any of the others, made a slight move in his direction, his tail would swish and the advancing horse would move back. Nothing big, nothing loud, just clear. This horse was in many ways the most settled and defined – not through dominance – but just presence and space. I knew he was the one who would pick up any signal that truly needed the herd’s attention and would ignore any other type of intrusion.

Leadership can seem almost boring when watching these horses until my eyes adjust and I begin to see just how incredibly advanced and intricate the interplay and communication has become.

In the world of horses, leadership is about safety and living well together. It’s about ensuring that each member has a place and contributes. It’s about each member being able to express needs, desires and getting clear signals about what works and what doesn’t. It’s about making sure that when one horse is resting, other’s are aware and watching.

We could learn so much about leadership through observing and watching how horses and other pack animals communicate and live together.

Yet, for the most part we don’t. Wouldn’t the world be a better place if leadership wasn’t about who is dominate – but instead about who is calmest, clearest and is able to notice when real danger is afoot. Imagine a leader like that. Wouldn’t that be great!