In the second instalment of our series on balanced leadership, I will continue to look at confidence in leadership, this time as it relates to confidence in those around you – especially your own team.

I find it fascinating to observe how horses behave in herds. Even at our stables here, we can clearly pick out the roles that our domesticated horses have instinctively carried over from the wild.

In a herd, horses must rely on each other for the overall health, harmony and unity of the entire group. To do this, they are highly attuned to one another and function under an effective system of shared leadership that has ensured their survival for millions of years. There’s much human leaders can learn here, because having confidence in others is crucial for us too.

The challenge of trusting others

Letting go is a big challenge for many; in fact, London Business School professor John Hunt says only 30 percent of managers think they can delegate well. Out of these managers who think they can delegate, only a third of the people they manage agree with them.

Most often, leaders are promoted because they are good at their jobs. And as a result, they progress into more senior roles that have the added responsibility of managing people. More often than not, they have very little experience doing so nor receive focused leadership training. As well as this, it’s reasonably common to find a manager run off their feet, doing the work of multiple people and having no time for those they lead.

Leadership can therefore feel like a burden, especially if you are trying to take on all the responsibility alone. This can negatively affect decision making, lead to decreased motivation and eventually burnout. Fortunately, agile leadership, sharing responsibility, delegating tasks and building confidence in others are skills that can be learned.

We can actually learn a lot from nature. When we humans take examples from nature and adopt them, it’s called ‘biomimicry’. This approach takes systems tested by nature that have worked over millions of years and adapt/adopt them for our benefit.

As mentioned above in relation to horses, animal groups have evolved effective ways of navigating their way through the uncertainty of every single day. It is selfless, collaborative and appropriate for the environment in which they live.

Our domestic horses retain the instincts of their wild cousins, who have survived their uncertain environment for millions of years through a collaborative system of shared leadership. By working alongside horses, we can experience this for ourselves. We can actually feel what it is like to be an accepted part of the group and how it feelsto function in different roles. As a leader, we can play with what is working and what is not. And – most importantly – we can relate this back to our interactions with people in our everyday lives in the office, at home, anywhere.

In our coaching sessions, each client group is split into smaller teams and selects a horse to work alongside. Together, they navigate various challenges that require collective problem solving, as well as highlight different leadership styles and dynamics at play within the team. During a recent leadership development session with the key talent cohort of a large IT company, one particular participant stood out.  He had a domineering leadership style and was trying to impose his view on everyone, rather than working collaboratively. While his human team members seemed to be used to this behaviour and (kind of) accepted it, our horse, Kylie, was not and did not!

Kylie’s reluctance to follow this person really hit home for him and the team. What was really going on here? Kylie’s obvious response gave him and the other team members the permission to speak out. There was no malice or ill-intent, it’s just he was – like many managers – very task-oriented person who simply forgot to check-in with the team. And his louder style and perceived confidence discouraged his peers to speak up and share their ideas.

This was a pivotal moment in leadership skills development for the entire team. And it took a four-legged, 600 kg teammate to make it happen.

How confident are you in others?

If you’re interested in assessing your own confidence in others, try a simple exercise.

Think of a time that you felt run off your feet. Could you have delegated in a more effective way? How would confidence in both yourself and others have helped? Now, try to think of a time that you delegated well and shared the responsibility. Can you compare the two experiences?

From here, you can consider whether this is an area of growth for you or not. Having confidence in others is a vital building block in great leadership.

Developing balanced leadership using Confidence, Consciousness and Compassion, will be covered in my upcoming eBook. If you’re interested in more information or receiving a copy when it’s released, follow me on here for further updates or email to be added to our mailing list.