Power: what can horses teach us?
I was standing in the arena recently working with horses and a group of leaders, all of whom were seeking to develop their presence in some way; increase their impact or just return to themselves. As I watched, I started to think about power and why we, as individuals, can sometimes shy away from fully taking our power, even on behalf of or in service of others. Perhaps it stems from a limited or limiting perception of what power is and is for?
For me power is intrinsically linked to energy and what engages that; when I’m passionate and enthusiastic I have more impact and a sense of my own ability to act or create something in the world. A lot of what leadership seems to be about at the moment is connecting people to meaning, purpose and ideally, passion. I recently spoke to someone who had been in law enforcement for over 30 years, his energy and passion for what he did was tangible. What struck me most was when he said that he would have done what he’d done for his whole career ‘even if I wasn’t getting paid for it, almost!’
Do we, as leaders have to connect to our passions in order to find our power? Or is it just enough to connect those we lead with theirs?
As leaders, it can be daunting that there are expectations put on us when we have power, that we become responsible. But if power was just seen as something which enabled, allowed our imaginings to become real, what then? If power was just potential’s servant would leaders be more comfortable with its use?
Horses use their power, whether that be physical fight or flight, or influencing behaviours, for the survival of the herd. It’s not selfish, or ego based (animals have what we might call personalities but not egos), it is for the collective good. Is that what puts some people off; that use of power maybe seen as somehow selfish? I’m wondering if, at some level our need for acceptance and approval can get in the way. That power is still seen as ‘power over’, rather than ‘power to’.
What does my own horse, Cherry, teach me about power?
His size often creates a reaction of fear in others, yet he is gentleness personified. His power is not based on his size or strength, how much physical space he takes up or what his half ton of muscle and bone could do at speed. He doesn’t have to be aware of his bulk to feel powerful. His is the power of simply being present in the now. As with all animals, he doesn’t know how not to be present! There is something more though; His willingness to drop his head, to let me stroke his ears, his vulnerability and openness to intimacy makes him immensely powerful. His submission opens me up to the power of love, of connection. I am connected to my own gentle power in his presence.
What would Cherry say to the leaders he meets?
“I do not need to prove anything to anyone. I am complete and content, my power sits within and waits for when I need it. My power is in the joy of graceful movement, in the alert, keen senses, it is enjoying the warmth of sun on my back and of being part of a herd.
I know what it takes to lead, do you? I know who I will and will not follow. If you ask me to follow you and there is doubt in your heart then the answer is probably no. If you don’t take responsibility for yourself and your power, then why would I bother moving my old bones for you? You have to be powerful in yourself or I will not trust that they would keep me safe. You have to have your own energy to encourage my heart, otherwise I will be content to stand in the sun.”
So power is being; it is the connection to joy and passion with the will and desire to act. It is something we all have whether we allow ourselves to connect with it and let it flow.
What could you do with your power if it was your potential’s servant?