Monday, 7 March 2016
The Horse Whisper - Lessons For Business
“When you cannot walk Let me help you to run. When you are afraid Let me teach you to trust. When you feel weak. Let me build your strength. When you can’t find your voice. Let us speak without words. When you cannot reach. Let me raise you above the world. When you want to give up. Let me show you how far you can go. In riding a horse, we borrow freedom!!” ~ Author Unknown
Even though I am the first to admit I am not a “horsey” person I have always quietly admired those who can ride and their relationship and natural ability to have an intrinsic understanding between human and animal. “Eventing” (Dressage, Cross-Country and Show Jumping) to me is the ultimate challenge, requiring the highest levels of skill, discipline and ability, let alone hours and hours of practice alongside care that goes into putting on the perfect performance is something I find completely admirable and also extremely brave. Controlling an animal the size of a horse and projecting confidence and control in dressage; undertaking a challenging cross country course; and then jumping in a tight arena against the clock is by no means can be considered easy, and all with the risk of serious injury to both parties. Equestrian riders are far from ordinary people, but then again a horse is not an ordinary animal.
So why am I writing about this? and what parallels (if any) are there to business? Well good question but for me I am always looking to put completely different aspects together. Looking for similarities (if any) or lessons that can be learned and transplanted. I am forcing my mind to look at things differently as it leads to innovation. This doesn’t come naturally to me it’s a learnt behaviour.
For me riding and business come together on a number of levels. To be successful in anything you need to have passion; dedication to practice; commitment to the challenge and high levels of trust. The aspect of fascination to me is the underlying psychology and behaviour in play and it is this aspect that I would like to explore. You find these characteristics in both.
That brings me to “The Horse Whisperer”, if you have never read the book – then find time to do so. I love the film, not just because there is a great love story and it also stars two of my all-time favourite actors and actresses in Robert Redford and Kristin Scott Thomas, but primarily it describes the struggle of the journey of an injured girl and an injured horse against all odds to come to heal each other after a tragic car accident. Triumph over adversity is right down my street.
However the controversial element in the film is that around horse psychology and behaviour, and that the instincts of horses can be used to human advantage to create a bond between human and horse. In layman terms horses can be controlled through training and repetition.
‘’A good trainer can hear his horse speak to him. A great trainer can hear him whisper’’ – Monty Roberts. Reflect this into a business context my personal interpretation would be “A good leader listens to his followers. A great leader listens to what is not said!”
Ok – so good so far? Let’s take it a step further.
The Psychology of Horse and Rider
Sigmund Freud’s theories gave us the useful metaphor of the “horse and rider” – with the conscious “ego” being the rider varying in skill and energy as they try to control a beast that is mysterious, much larger and more powerful. I apply this to the role of the Project Manager and the Project he or she is tasked with delivering.
All good Project Managers (“the rider”) have a degree of ego, it is the natural element found in their DNA that drives them to succeed and rise to the challenge of achievement. Project Management can be a very lonely job, especially when your pulling both client and suppliers (the “heard”) in the same direction to achieve what should be a common goal, so it the strength of personality and ego often carries Project Managers through the dark moments. If you don’t believe you can deliver the project, then your not going to convince the project’s sponsors let alone your own project delivery team.
Again just like any good rider, the good Project Manager must excel across a number of disciplines and skills. Including, but not limited to technical delivery skills; great business knowledge and context; the ability to be able to lead and communicate direction of travel clearly; and the ability to work with various stakeholders and possess at times the diplomacy of a NATO peace keeping force!
The Psychology of the Project
The vast majority of organisations, especially those that are SME’s are not overly disciplined in delivering business projects (especially IT enabled) in a controlled manner. Delivery takes place, but often in a hap hazard way, with projects always costing more than usually first envisaged.
Anything that disrupts business operations (digital or not) needs a degree of management and control. In a nod to Certus activities Oracle Cloud implementations are no different to any other project.
Project Management and delivery of business change / transformation projects is not about PRINCE2, MSP and the latest trend for agile (yawn! Any seasoned project management professional will tell you that, so nothing new here). True Project Managers know that projects are always fundamentally about people, and the skill is simply in getting people who don’t want to do things for you to get them to do things for you. Ok that’s project management theory dealt with. However you should see the link here between horse and rider – delivery is a learnt behaviour. Behaviour changes can be taught and adopted. It does however as any psychologist will tell you take time.
“Remember the “P” in PM is much about People Management as it is about Project Management” (Cornelius Fichtner).
The underlying skills of project management that really matter are those linked to emotional intelligence and people skills, ranging from displays of empathy and understanding, onto the rare occasions when it is ok and acceptable to lose your temper. The point being here it is a display of assertiveness in acknowledging you are proactively soliciting a pre-determined response. In other words - ‘’If a horse says no you either asked the wrong question or asked the question wrong’’ – Pat Parelli. Equally in Project Management if your project delivery team doesn’t respond to you in the way you expect, then quite possibly you are reading the situation wrong or similarly you have “asked the wrong question or asked the question wrong’’.
Food for thought and possible insight into the behaviour of project managers and project teams. As for me, I’ll keep my relationship between horses and myself to the racetrack and the bookies!