“Groundwork isn’t about “doing groundwork,” it’s about finding problems.” – Warwick Schiller

The concept of leadership has been an elusive subject for me because I felt it was more than responding to emails and gathering information from database beast dumps for Lean Six metric reporting. Earlier in my career, during my time as a telecommunications network engineer, I was becoming someone I did not admire while I performed roles that required leadership skills.

Several of the projects that I was put in charge of had timelines that seemed unreasonable when I did not have the supporting documents with discovery lessons prior to implementation. How could I meet the deadline without the specification documentation that would step our teams into successful implementation?

It became my role to perform the discovery process and to document our learnings. Once we completed the specifications to the best of our ability, we began putting what we thought we knew to the test and we learned more lessons on the fly and adjusted our methods accordingly.

“It’s important to know the difference between someone who values you and someone who only values what you can give them.” – Daniell Koepke

In retrospect, I realize that the feeling of disappointment in myself during those projects was a result of my actions not aligning with what I valued personally. As a result of that, I smeared several boundaries that ended with moral injury.

Warwick Schiller teaches his students, to change our horse we have to change ourselves. What does that have to do with leadership? Horses need leaders. My equine trainer taught me that the bully horse is the most insecure horse and Mark Rashid teaches that the goal of our time with horses is to help them build enough confidence to feel confident in their own leadership no matter where they are.

All of these messages about equine leadership has been confusing until I revised my values for my objectives and key results for 2022. There are numerous influencers and leaders in leadership forums sharing their information about leadership. A highly admired young leader commented to the following image post that she believes are core competency leadership skills for 2022.

Her comment on this infographic struck a chord with me. Another leader shared their perspective that we need to get away from the ‘nice’ culture that encourages blind optimism (what some understand as toxic positivity) because nice cultures can promote toxic behaviors that create unsafe work environments.

Timothy Clark sent me a message and asked if I would be willing to read his book if he sent me a copy of, ‘The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety.’ I agreed on one condition. If it was a signed copy. His book was a huge ‘yes’ moment for me. He put into words what I was feeling about leadership and business. I’m not certified in his course yet. I want to be when I have the resources to do that.

In the meantime, I’m learning a lot through a fantastic group, ‘We Are Human Leaders.’ What is the groundwork that I need to work on to become the kind of leader my horse needs? What do I need to do to build trust with my horse and what changes in myself are necessary to deserve his trust?

I had to start with identifying actionable values so I can lead my horse with intention like my equine coach was trying to teach me. I wish he were still alive today to discuss my learnings even though he may have very different ideas while admiring what I’m learning. We didn’t always see eye to eye with our philosophies of leadership and that was okay. My goal was to embrace the opportunity to understand what leadership really means so my horse would desire to connect with me because I earned his trust to believe in me.

This journey with leadership was not with the intent to get a management seat. Although, that would be a very challenging position for further learning opportunities that will help me grow into being a better leader for my horse.

I’ve learned that horses are emotional creatures that are all prey. In other words, they are not predators and they do not plan for the future. Horses are very present beings with memories like elephants. What horses learn, they retain and horses can learn how to do things differently if they have the right people at their side leading with attunement. I’m putting what I’m learning to use and working on understanding what it means to lead right where I stand.

Most of the time, it really sucks because learning to lean into vulnerability is not an easy habit change. At the same time, I’m also learning that I’m a resilient person that has moved forward with determination and grit. I’m learning to radically accept the bad and the good because every single bit of my life experience is what brought me to where I am at today and the lessons I am learning are an absolute thrill.