The Herd’s Secret to Finding Your Unique Gifts

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Leadership is not a new or sexy topic, I know, but here’s the thing .. new research shows that up to 80% of Millennials are not interested in following in the footsteps of the leaders they see around them. While most of the descriptors of what it means to be a leader don’t seem so discouraging, they’ve lost their inspiring panache, especially in the face of our troubled world. Leading to win, to achieve, to drive results, to succeed, to be the master of our own destiny, to push a team to new heights.

The vast majority of leadership thinking, and programs are based on an understanding of how things work through the lens of Power Over … self, others, competition, nature. A way of seeing that once served us and is now busting at the seams, repressing, even doing a lot of harm. 

Those who are saying NO to this form of leadership, know that Power Over isn’t the way forward. But what is?

Power Over thinking pervades so many other aspects of our way of making sense of the world, even if we don’t see ourselves as leaders. For instance, consider this from the world of domestic horses. We’re pretty sure there is a fixed hierarchy that starts with the lead horse and that there’s a pecking order … you can hear the ring of Power Over in these phrases.

I certainly assumed these were truisms until I came to live with The Courage Herd.  

At first, because they weren’t a herd and for some, had never met, there was a lot of figuring things out. But rather than establishing who was boss, what I saw was a process of coming together. Getting to know one another.

I did something that helped the herd form without really knowing it would. I created dozens of places for them to eat. They needed hay because the field had limited grass but instead of the typical single feeder for the five of them, I put hay down all over which meant no forced competition for food. They could choose who and for how long they ate together.

And what I noticed was a constant flow and dance. In the course of any given 30 minutes they would rotate six or seven times who was eating with who. It was like watching a rich dialogue in motion.

From this care and tending came something that seemed counter to everything I knew about finding our unique strengths .. it was from a dedication to the herd, that each horse began to find their talent. For humans, at least in our current culture, we seek to find our gifts and talents and then set about putting them to use. For the herd, it was opposite. Give yourself over to the herd, and from the herd you’ll find your unique talents.

Just imagine that for a moment. Give yourself to something larger than your personal aim, and from your giving, find your gifts.

If you read the previous post, you might recall the story of how I met Sonnet, who was nervous and pacing in a paddock. As the forming of the herd unfolded, and I got to know Sonnet more, it was clear that she was indeed a sensitive horse. Very often she wanted to greet people from a much larger distance than say, Echo. 

It turns out that one of Sonnet’s strengths is her sentinel abilities – she can sense things at a vast distance. And the herd figured this out. Which brings us back to leadership through Power Over vs. Power With. In a Power Over model, leadership is based on a fixed hierarchy. The leader is the strongest one, the one most powerful, the one in charge. What the herd showed me was that they treated leadership as fluid and situational based on the strengths needed in the moment.

While Sonnet often hangs back when new hay is put out and waits until others have started eating to get into a pile, when something is afoot in the forest behind them, the herd looks first to her for guidance. Of course, she’s noticed whatever it is long before they do. She actually alerts them with her body language that she’s tracking something. And, they trust her as they continue grazing, paying attention to her cues that either whatever she’s sensing has moved on or that they should collectively raise up their energy and figure out a response (horses are very curious).

Situational leadership is not new. We watch it all the time in teams that play basketball, hockey, and a myriad of other sports. Once the team is on the field, or the court, a spectator would be hard pressed to know who the team captain was.

And yet, it’s hard to find examples of it in workplaces, homes and communities and harder yet to find examples where the aim isn’t to win at a competition, to dominate. The nuances of the herd’s way of living in Power With is profoundly different then situational leadership in a context of Power Over. And one of the big differences comes from how they use boundaries to connect.

Oh, but that’s another story. Stay tuned, we’re just getting started.

Christina Turner