You want me to be vulnerable??
Brene Brown quotes in Rising Strong "Vulnerability is not a weakness; it's our greatest measure of courage." So, why is it so difficult?
Getting outside of our comfort zones is one of the best ways I know to facilitate personal growth. We’re also hearing how imperative it is in these times of extreme uncertainty for vulnerability to be a skillset of leadership. The current pandemic, along with the political debates I’ve witnessed in Canada and the US these past weeks have shown the not so appealing sides of forceful, dominant leaders. It’s also shone a light on those who have the courage to reveal their vulnerabilities for the sake of something greater than themselves; the emerging future.
Finding ways to cultivate personal growth can be vulnerable and downright scary. We want to grow yet it’s hard to create those safe, sincere and open connections where both courage and curiosity can prevail as well as opportunities to step outside our natural strengths, aka our comfort zones, into vulnerability, uncertainty and sometimes disorientation.
Personal growth opportunities are often facilitated in workshop settings with our peers, working together colleague to colleague. The challenges many find in these environments is they’re not devoid of our messier human ways of being in relationship with one another. Ego can creep into these spaces as well as agenda’s, judgements, criticism or general feelings of how one “should be” showing up especially if one’s role is in a “leadership of others” capacity.
Let me introduce you to Equine Assisted or Facilitated Learning environments (EAL or EFL) where vulnerability prevails. These are growth opportunities in which people step into a psychologically safe space, rooted in relationship with another species, the horse. From the horse’s perspective it’s free of judgement, ego and agenda as they don’t have this type of critical thinking system. Horses live and experience life within two fluctuating states of Being; Love and Fear. What this means is they relate to you through energetic feedback or non-verbal communication. They read your emotions and intentions in their purest form. Shall I fear you, predator (a vulnerable place to be for a horse) or shall I be in relationship with you because I can trust you based on your energy.
Stepping into an arena with a horse for the purpose of learning more about oneself is an act of courage and vulnerability. It’s also extremely disorienting as 1100 lbs. (500 kg) of horsepower await you which immediately takes you outside of your comfort zones.
The way and wisdom of the Herd, combined with the dynamics of the horse: human connection is always at play when working together. This historic, inter-species relationship, rooted in predator/prey dynamics provides profound opportunities in which we can grow our leadership skillsets of vulnerability, humility and integrity.
The horses gently nudge us towards seeing our growth edges, while shining lights on our brilliance.
Equine Facilitated or Assisted Learning, the work I do with the horses, is a modality where together we partner with the horses to create safe learning environments, with constructive, in the moment feedback loops from the horses themselves, not other people or our peers. Heightened awareness, authenticity, courage and curiosity are the pre-requisites for learning and growth to occur. You’ve stepped into an eco-system of living, leading and thriving through relationship. It’s disorienting, yes, vulnerable, you bet, and sometimes you’re meeting more than one horse at a time. Can you imagine the dynamics at play and what that feels like? It’s definitely an experience rich in overcoming adversity.
Here are some ways working with the horses can cultivate your leadership and strengthen your vulnerability muscles.
Embody vulnerability. The sheer act of stepping into relationship with the horse is an act of courage. It’s disorienting and requires one to drop out of their critical thinking brain and get grounded within your body. You become very present while playing with feeling into the space. This itself is vulnerable as there really is nothing for you to do other than BE aware of your surroundings and Become more aware of yourself. Explore sensing and feeling, also known as Presencing vs Absencing in the work of Otto Scharmer, The Presencing Org., and TheoryU, or checking out because it’s too uncomfortable.
Speak your Truth. Horses interact with your truth. Way before you’re aware, the horses have energetically read you. They sense your state of mind and are waiting to see what you do next. They sense your truth, no matter what’s coming out of your mouth. You may be operating on auto-pilot, wearing a mask of self-protection, denial, arrogance or fear. They will not be in relationship with you when you’re communicating from the places known as the False self. They may ignore you or push your buttons a bit, testing you out. They will relate to your authentic, True Self. You will feel “fully seen and heard” like never before, possibly without ever uttering a word.
Embody vulnerability. Leadership with a horse is like unlocking the energetic forces that enable you to come together, as a team, in authentic relationship. This requires transparency and vulnerability. Your authenticity will increase their commitment to be in relationship with you and give their leadership over to you or “follow you”. Unlike the predatory ways of us humans, horses will not follow dominance-based hierarchy, bullying or aggressive ways. They “sense for the wellbeing of themselves and the whole”.
Show your shortcomings. When you make a mistake working with a horse, like trying a new technique or way to communicate, they will patiently wait for you to try another method so they can respond to you. They have no agendas to the outcome, though they may get bored or curious. They listen not to what you’re saying; they’re waiting for you to show your honesty and ask in a way that they can hear or understand you. This grows one’s self-awareness, while putting aside our judgements. Learn how to embrace the power of being humble.
Live and Lead through relationship. Horses value relationship over territory, personal gain, being seen as, dominance, power over or acquisition at the expense of others. You’ll see no arguing over what we should or shouldn’t do. Predatory ways such as conquer or be conquered, survival of the fittest are lived in contrast by this prey species as a “live and let live” philosophy. Vulnerable horses, sick, young or the elderly, can rely on the others in the herd for their safety and wellbeing.
Listening beyond words. Learn how to sense into what is being related to you, be it acceptance and following of your lead, dissonance or simply put “the moment has passed” and it’s time to move on. This is mindful leadership. Horses are always sensing, feeling into what is present in this moment, and the next, and action from these places of information. Your intuition will expand to a new level as you learn to sense into what’s in the energetic field, or system, trusting your gut or instincts of what is wanting to emerge or happen next, or not.
Most of us know our strengths, and lean heavily into them, there’s nothing vulnerable about that. What’s possible though when we lead and show up for the sake of shining a light on our weaknesses, stepping outside of our comfort zones and fully embracing our vulnerability?
Vulnerability creates space and opportunity. It’s like paving the way for others in our systems to feel comfortable enough to speak up, to show up, to express their ideas or share their knowledge as seen and experienced only through their perspectives. This is what eco-systems look like as it’s supporting the whole. Growing ourselves and modelling vulnerable leadership is critical to our lives, our emerging futures, especially during these times of extreme uncertainty.
Some further context: horses are prey animals and have navigated change for thousands of years, instinctually (sourcing beyond themselves) what is needed to maneuver ever changing scenarios and at times life threatening experiences. Times just like we’re experiencing these days of ongoing disruption and uncertainty. The difference being the horses, herd animals, experience themselves as an eco-system, unlike our predatory, ego-systems. Thriving together, in herds, horses operate in what’s known as consensual leadership. This model of leadership draws on the wisdom and sentience of the entire herd and to an extent it’s improvisational; living moment by moment building off of what’s showing up. It’s a system that encourages mutual empowerment; yes, you read that right, mutual empowerment which makes the herd stronger for the sake of the whole and their ultimate survival!