It can be difficult and confronting to have honest conversations with others, particularly in the workplace.
One of the most important features of a great leader is the ability to pull what is hidden to the surface. This is both in our communication and dealings with others, but also – crucially – in being honest with ourselves. It’s also one of the hardest things to do.
Brené Brown, well-known author, social commentator and research professor, calls it “bringing to light the stuff that’s in the shadows and in the corners”.
I call it “making the invisible, visible”, and it’s something that I see a lot in working with horses, particularly in our leadership training.
🐴 Horses aren’t afraid of the truth!
You see, horses are not scared to show how you make them feel – not with words of course, but with their body language. They respond to our stimulus by turning their heads, swishing their tails and stomping their feet. In the wild, horses communicate as a means to survive in a herd, and even domesticated horses retain this instinct. For them, there is no purpose in hiding anything.
Not the same with humans, though. Our complicated social contracts mean we tend to push down our feelings, particularly in workplace settings, and not prompt other team members to be forthright with theirs either. A recent study found that people often don’t speak up because of “interpersonal risks” and fear of being shunned. Interestingly, the study also looks at the consequences of a workplace where people don’t speak up, which includes harming our wellbeing and therefore contributing to burn out. People get exhausted when they’re not allowed to be their authentic selves.
That’s why working with horses to develop leadership skills is so helpful. They give honest and open feedback, and when a human team is working with them it’s difficult to stop those sentiments that have been bubbling below the surface from breaking free. Suddenly, people are braver about speaking up. They dare to have honest conversations. Leaders gain the courage to move unspoken problems into the open.
So, how can we challenge ourselves to have honest, visible conversations, encourage others to do the same and in the process be the best leader we can?