After riding for fifteen years of my life, I know that there are no obstacles that I cannot surmount, both on and off horseback. Pennsylvania State University (2020) suggests that leadership involves influencing a group of people to achieve a common goal. As a young adult, I believe that I have finally developed the necessary skills required to excel in any leadership position. Yet, I do not think that I was born with many of my leadership traits. As the trait approach indicates, leaders are gifted with innate abilities that enable them to guide individuals to attain success (Pennsylvania State University, 2020). As a terribly quiet, timid and introverted child, I had absolutely no desire to exert any form of dominance or power. However, I became more outspoken as I matured. As Pennsylvania State University (2020) states, the skills approach focuses on building leaders by enabling leaders to develop certain skills vital for excellent leadership.
Often, individuals develop these leadership skills by working with helpful mentors such as teachers, bosses, friends or family members. I believe my skills advanced from a different kind of adviser. Since the age of five, I have been a passionate equestrian. I am currently a competitive horseback rider and the sole caretaker for three horses in my backyard stable. Riding has taught me a tremendous amount that is applicable to all aspects of my life but I believe one of the most crucial lessons that riding has provided me is leadership. Unlike most other sports in which athlete’s utilize non-living objects to practice the activities, riding is centered on the unique bond between the human and the horse. Horses are living creatures with completely unpredictable personalities. I often joke that the most challenging boss that I have ever encountered is my horse because it is so difficult to communicate and reason effectively with an animal. Therefore, it has taken me years to finally finesse my communication and situational adaptation skills. I feel confident that this knowledge is not equestrian specific. Rather, I can apply this information to any leadership role I may face in the future.
Pennsylvania State University (2020) highlights the situational approach as a leadership approach that focuses on leadership in various situations. Moreover, Pennsylvania State University (2020) states that different situations require divergent forms of leadership and effective leaders must be able to alter their leadership styles as a means to suite a specific situation. The situational approach is prescriptive rather than descriptive in that the situation informs the leader of the actions that are required (Pennsylvania State University, 2020). Nancy Koehen wrote an articulate article for the Harvard Business Review discussing the leadership lessons she learned from the saddle. Koehen (2011) mentions some vital components that must be considered when on horseback such as emotional awareness and confidence, energy, mindful non-verbal cues, deftness, empathy and producing quality results. Horses, like humans, do not have steady, unwavering dispositions. Instead, it is crucial that the rider asses the situation immediately upon mounting the horse in order to understand the style of leadership and the amount of force the equestrian will have to assert. Pennsylvania State University (2020) describes the situational approach as having four, main leadership styles: directive, coaching, supportive and delegating. I believe equestrians’ utilize all four of these styles at some point in their riding careers. For example, when I am on horseback, I consider myself to always be the leader and the horse, in turn, to be the perpetual follower. Horses are heard animals. Thus, horses are followers by nature. The task I desire to complete determines the situational approach leadership style that I choose to employ. For instance, if I am trail riding my horse leisurely through the woods with friends, I often adopt the delegating style, which is a low supportive and low directive style that does not call for much input or prioritize high aspirations and this style is suitable because I am simply enjoying my horse (Pennsylvania State University, 2020). Yet, when I am training my horse to complete a new task that he is unfamiliar with, I typically use either the supporting style or the coaching style. As Pennsylvania State University (2020) suggests, the supporting style is high supportive and low directive, asking for the followers input and putting less emphasis on the end result. The coaching style is both high directive and high supportive in that it focuses on the goal while seeking the follower’s input (Pennsylvania State University, 2020). These two styles are beneficial for training purposes because they enable me to assertively demand that my horse respect my commands and learn the new tasks while praising my horse and asking for my horse’s approval of my aids in order to ensure that my horse is completing the task willingly and not out of fear. The last style, the directing style, is high directive and low supportive (Pennsylvania State University, 2020). The directing style highlights goal achievement and directing leaders give instructions without considering the follower’s input. This style I employ when I am at a competition because I require that my horse respect me as the leader and obey the commands I give him. With this being said, my horse is always willing and eager to perform at his best because he was trained in a way that fostered behavior out of love as opposed to fear. I think that the best leaders are the leaders who can use the situational approach to analyze a given situation and adapt their leadership style in a way that best suites the needs of the specific environment. Additionally, I believe that the delegating style of the situational approach is a style to be wary of as a leader. While it is crucial for leaders to gain the respect of their followers, respect is often the most sincere if it is built upon a two-way relationship in which the leader and the follower interact to achieve a common goal.
Horses may not be humans but horses have taught me how to be human, how to relate to humans and how to lead humans. Working with horses has provided me with tremendous joy, satisfaction and skill. Most importantly, working with horses has given me the confidence to feel capable of exerting authority and leadership no matter what the situation presents.
Kohen, N. (2011). Leadership Lessons from the Saddle. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2011/05/leadership-lessons-from-the-sa.html
Pennsylvania State University World Campus (2016). PSYCH 485 Lesson 5: Style and Situational Appraoches. Retrieved https://psu.instructure.com/courses/2075467/modules/items/30110418