MAITHILI CHAKRAVARTHY discerns how Robert Redford-like horse whispering works in the corporate world in India.
Austrian Isabelle Hasleder came to India to work at a research centre down south in Auroville and decided to stay back when she met her now husband Dhruv Futnani. Over the years the environmental engineering graduate worked and travelled all over India—working for multinational companies—such as BMW India and Liebherr—in departments like logistics and supply chain management—all the while noticing the yawning gap between how employees functioned and how they needed to act such that their companies could be even more successful than they were. She saw that while each of the companies that she had been part of had people with tremendous potential within it—somehow the companies had been unable to tap into it. She believed that new ideas needed to be given vent to and that everyone within an organisation had something to bring to the table. It was only more effective leadership that could transform companies from within—enabling them to witness greater growth and make a mark in the industry.
For many years Hasleder has been passionate about horses. She became the owner of her first horse at the age of 12 and took part in many horse-riding competitions thereafter. Some of her life’s greatest learnings have been due to her experience with riding and handling horses from a very impressionable age. Thus today she and her husband Futnani offer leadership courses where company executives will learn the art of management and internal guidance by learning how to work with this handsome, tall animal. “Horses mirror and reflect one’s behaviour. Not only one’s behaviour but also one’s body language, energy and one’s intentions. With horses one gets feedback within a split second. Let’s say you need to make a horse run for two rounds. You can do this without any special knowledge or skills. It just depends on your energy, your focus and your ability to communicate with that horse, while getting him or her to do the task at hand. With human beings it’s a little different. With humans the feedback may not be immediate. If you have offended someone, you may not know for a long time. You may get to know after a week or two, if let’s say, they stop talking to you. When you delegate a job to somebody in your team, you should be aware of your energy and your focus and see that the person has really understood the task given to him or her. Often when we delegate something, that person comes back one week later and has completed only half the job. And we place the blame on him or her alone for a job done badly. We never reflect on what actually happened. Ninety-nine percent of the times the problem is always with the person who gives the instruction because maybe they haven’t given it clearly. With a horse, one gets a reaction immediately if leadership skills have been ineffectual. Thus we use different exercises and strategies on how to lead in a more effective way – which people learn by dealing with horses.”
Hasleder and Futnani believe that managers and CEOs across companies are still to really explore how they can emotionally connect with their employees. They believe a manager’s EQ is as important as his IQ and his technical knowledge of the subject. Perhaps even more important than it. The courses they teach are engineered towards teaching company executives how not to shy away from establishing a bond with their employees, so that they feel at home and are more motivated. They believe horses help us access the emotional reservoir within us such that we can make better leaders. “You don’t want to become like a drama queen. But you want to show people that you care about them. For example if you have a big CEO of a company and you have a good manager working with him. One day the CEO notices that his manager has not been performing well over the past weeks. So now he has two possibilities. One is he can go and tick him off and pressurise him into meeting the sales targets. The other way is he can be emotionally sensitive, and he can say, maybe go and spend five minutes during tea break and try and figure out why this is happening. Then maybe he figures out that there is something happening in the employee’s private life and that’s why he is upset. So maybe he can give him special support on one side to help the manager come out of his difficult situation. Which then, going through this challenge together, will create a stronger bond between the CEO and that manager, because they have emotionally connected and they can understand each other’s feelings. In business we always try to overlook this aspect of relationships building, saying this is not a part of my business. But at the end it makes a lot of business sense to connect emotionally too.”
With plans to offer the courses in Mumbai by March-April, Hasleder who is a certified horse-assisted trainer from the European Association for Horse Assisted Education (EAHAE) in Germany, hopes the courses will push leaders to re-think their strategies and not use authority to always get results from their employees. She says flexibility is an important component of leadership in offices and one cannot impress upon workers to do as they please all the time. For her, horses and their ability to deflate a trainer’s ego and cut him or her down to size is what makes them great coaches. The one and two day training programmes are designed to have maximum impact on students’ lives—pushing them to create happier and more rewarding workplaces where imagination is allowed to flourish. “Almost 90 % of the people who enroll for our courses have never sat on or even touched a horse before. So they are very sceptical. Where you have the biggest fears you have the biggest potential of growth. The strategy of our programmes is putting people in challenging situations and helping them turn their fears into opportunities. It’s then that you create aha moments. For example, you are the CEO of the company and the reins of your horse have been given to a junior, who has to lead you while you are sitting atop the horse. In the beginning, you may feel very uncomfortable because all your life you have been in control and now your life is in the hands of a junior. On the other hand, the junior feels stressed out and wonders what will happen if the horse suddenly starts running. Thus all of a sudden you have two people who have no idea about horses and they need to work it out. It is overcoming that challenge that helps create a strong bond which is made even stronger through the horse. Being faced with unknown circumstances is something that happens all the time in business. You don’t know what your competitors are doing, and what’s going to happen tomorrow. Hence one has to learn to give their horse an advance of trust. In any kind of relationship, one normally wants the other person to trust them first, before trusting him or her. But in this exercise one realises that they have to give their trust first.”
A German concept in India for the first time. Where corporate leaders discover how to mould their leadership skills and build a team of workers who take their companies ahead of the competition.