Effective Communication: Crucial in Leadership and Horseback Riding

To celebrate the release of our new book, Horse Sense for Leaders, we are publishing a series of guest blogs. Many of us have had leadership lessons learned from horses!
Each month we will feature a guest blogger – leaders who practice trust-based leadership at their own organizations.
In our FIRST GUEST BLOG we feature the work of John Janclaes, President and CEO of Partners Federal Credit Union.


Photo 1I enjoy trying new physical and mental challenges – put the two together and I am really intrigued, which is partly why I recently took up horseback riding. So far, I’ve logged more than 2,500 hours in the saddle, (all under the guidance of a devoted coach) and developed a healthy new respect for this activity.

Unlike any other sport I have attempted, riding is unique in that it requires two individuals – rider and horse – to perform as one, and the two must communicate effectively, which can be daunting, as the horse’s English language skills are pretty limited.

The rider communicates with the horse by using “natural aids“– the rider’s voice, hands, and feet, that ask a horse to respond in a certain way. As my riding skills slowly progress, I am learning that the horse’s personality and how well it is listening determines the intensity with which I should use an aid.

Overall, when a horse listens, and I ask appropriately, the partnership is successful and both the rider and horse enjoy the ride. One thing to keep in mind – a good rider doesn’t blame a poor ride on their horse, but instead focuses on how best to ask for better performance.

The key then to becoming an effective rider is to develop mastery of your aids – know how to dial each one up or down appropriately, how to use them in concert with one another, and, most importantly, how to apply them based on your understanding of your horse’s temperament.

As you’ve probably surmised, this discussion is metaphorical – as solid communication, critical for peak performance in horseback riding, is just as crucial in leadership. Our communication aids, which help determine performance, are numerous – “one-on-one” or “one-to-many” conversations, the written word, etc.

I know we’ve all encountered a leader with one dominant leadership style – can you picture a crop?

Developing our communication skills requires a commitment to mastery, which means we are never done. Additionally, great leaders don’t ask for nor do they expect better performance without first evaluating themselves.

I invite you take a moment and review an inventory of effective leadership communication practices on the next page:


Leaders who are effective communicators…

  • Use a “partnership” approach (not “top-down”) to generate peak performance
  • Set a clear work standard that is Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, and Time-bound (S.M.A.R.T.)
  • Address resistance, correct behaviors and / or use praise to reinforce good performances
  • Use vocabulary or nomenclature that is understood by the team
  • Develop a progression of communication tactics, subtle to more forceful
  • Develop a strategy of blended communication tactics, each reinforcing the other
  • Understand that over-communicating (nagging) can create frustration, or worse, a numbing effect that causes the team to no longer be responsive
  • Use progressive discipline sparingly and only after they have effectively communicated expectations. Problems are more often poor communication from the leader than poor execution by the team
  • Assess their inventory of communication tools for strengths and weaknesses
  • Have a plan to develop their skills, and eventually, gain mastery of them
  • Have a plan for communicating, based on their knowledge of the team
  • After engaging the team – reflect on their performance
  • Ask a knowledgeable coach to critique their performance in order to improve


If you would like to contact John Janclaes, you may do so at:

john.janclaes@yahoo.com or www.linkedin.com/in/johnjanclaes


Horse Sense for LeadersAbout Horse Sense for Leaders: Building Trust-Based Relationships

Our new book, Horse Sense for Leaders: Building Trust-Based Relationships takes readers through a journey to discover the groundbreaking work of New York Times Bestselling Author Monty Roberts. The book transfers lessons from the equine world into leadership lessons. “Whether you are leading others in your private life or at work, Roberts’ trust-based concepts in this book can help you find a strong foothold in building more effective relationships,” stated co-author Dr. Susan Cain.

The book is co-authored by Monty Roberts’ daughter, Debbie Roberts-Loucks and Dr. Susan Cain. “The book focuses on the power of joining-up to form strong trust bonds in your life. We feature the Join-Up® process that Monty pioneered with horses to illustrate how inter-species trust is developed, then show how the same process works in human terms,” commented co-author Debbie Roberts-Loucks.

Monty Roberts wrote his groundbreaking book, The Man Who Listens To Horses, about his experiences growing up in the rodeo circuit with an abusive father. The book follows Roberts’ career training racehorses, culminating in his current work a global leader in non-violent horse training.

Queen Elizabeth II of England has endorsed Roberts’ work, and he has received numerous awards for his work with horses, leaders, and returning veterans. Roberts’ belief in non-violence has inspired followers who agree with his philosophy:

“For centuries, humans have said to horses, ‘you do what I tell you or I’ll hurt you.’ Humans still say that to each other, still threaten, force, and intimidate. I’m convinced that my discovery with horses also has value in the workplace, in the educational and penal systems and in raising children. At heart, I’m saying no one has the right to say, ‘you must’ to an animal, or to another human.”


The book is available for purchase on Amazon here

Visit www.montyroberts.com to learn more.

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