Crisis management happens on a continuum: we need to be good at managing the crisis through good hazard and risk management upfront, then during the actual crisis and also create value when coming out of it

Sanny and I were part of the same certification group for the Horse Dream horse assisted education concept. I was thrilled to discover such a powerful presence and I later on invited her to join our team in Romania.

I’ve met Luis the next year and since then I never get tired of listening to how he puts things in perspective from micro to macro, from local to global, from the business world to the horse arena.

Both their professional lives and their personal experiences recommend this team for the topic of Crisis Management so I am grateful that they agreed to this interview. Thank you both!

Madalina: What makes this leadership competency of crisis management so complex?

Sanny: First of all, it’s the fact that systematically and especially in times like the ones we are currently experiencing, the ability to manage crises is particularly challenged. When in the middle of things, we usually have energy to display the competency but not to develop it. The development must happen prior to the need .

Secondly, crisis management happens on a continuum: we need to be good at managing the crisis through good hazard and risk management upfront, then during the actual crisis and also create value when coming out of it. 

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When given the opportunity, a core lesson a horse will offer is about the role of silence in the communication process. Silence offers the space and time for the communication between us to take shape, form, morph. It allows me to listen to myself, you to listen to yourself, both to listen to each other.

In his locker room speech in “Any given Sunday” Al Pacino said it very nicely: “one half step too late or too early, you don’t quite make it. One half second too slow or too fast and you don’t quite catch it.”

Apply this to the market and the innovation process. Propose something too early and it will be rejected, probably because it is not understood. Propose it too late and the need it serves will have been addressed through other means or by other players. Apply it to sales, purchasing, hiring – the right time is key, every time. 

In our daily interactions we experience time’s influence on the communication process in all those moments when the words coming out of mouths are either too early in the dialogue or too late. The visual indication of this off-timing are the eyes of your conversation partner, his eyebrows, and the brief interruption in his flow of thoughts you will notice through the way his face muscles contract. 

We think we are having a conversation but in fact we are having at least 3.  I’m having an inner conversation, you’re having an inner conversation and between us two we’re having another outer conversation. Make no mistakes, the 3 conversations are very different. 

In this already complicated context, what could a horse possibly bring as added value in our development?

Silence

When given the opportunity, a core lesson a horse will offer is about the role of silence in the communication process. Silence offers the space and time for the communication between us to take shape, form, morph. It allows me to listen to myself, you to listen to yourself, both to listen to each other. It’s like going through neutral when shifting gears. It allows choices which can take us closer to the objectives we have for that interaction. It is where added value is created. 

How does the horse do all of this? Through the embedded communication system: they use primarily visual cues and behaviors (actions) to communicate instead of sound. Inside the behavior communication channel, you have both what they do and don’t do. And when charted on the axis time you have: When does the horse do? And when does the horse NOT do?

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The first step to generate value from any given combination of resources is to have some understanding of how the resource looks like (what is?) and what it can do for you (what can it be useful for?) in the context of the objective you are trying to reach.

When it comes to resource management, working with horses achieves two specific objectives: a) it unravels the existing frame of reference of individuals and teams, in practice, making the outcome visible to everyone, and b) it provides the context to test and experiment with  multiple solutions to the same problem. 

Horse Assisted Education bridges the knowing with the doing in the shortest time possible while providing a context of uncertainty and complexity. You can test the impact of your decisions and actions in just a few hours rather than over a period of years. 

The resources applied in horse assisted education exercises are exactly the same as in any business: internal to the team (the organization), external (expertise and competency), material (space, technical materials), knowhow (non-material), partners and stakeholders with their own will (the horses). 

Limited and Unlimited Resources 

The two most frequent perspectives to resource management are those which are limited and limitless. The first one to consider is that there are limited resources: if I use some, you will be unable. The second is to consider unlimited resources and lean into the infinite cognitive capacities of the human mind to imagine new solutions which simply rewrite the limits, in this case, of the resources. 

As much as I love the creative challenges of problem solving, I believe there are some limits which would be better recognized than rewritten. Time is one. The sun will eventually set and rise in our lives, projects, business. The month, the year, our lives will eventually come to an end. Physical space is probably the most visible resource we need to manage daily; there is only so much space on this planet. If I occupy this space, you cannot occupy it also. There are also some other, more dynamic limits, like individual freedom (individuals or species inhabiting the same space).

In all perspectives, the first step to generate value from any given combination of resources is to have some understanding of what the resource looks like (what is it?) and what can it do for you (What can it be useful for?) in the context of your objective. 

1st lesson – Resources are there, but do we really see them?

The first important lesson one can learn while working with horses is the difference between the physical and the mental space in which we live. Many times, the physical surroundings of the arena are stocked with more resources than anyone would need to solve the exercise at hand. The resources are available, in plain sight and are typically rather simple objects. People look at them, and then continue with whatever solution they were testing.

You are looking at something. Are you seeing it?  You are looking at someone. Are you seeing him/her?

The physical presence of resources is simply not enough to trigger action, if the usage of those resources is not part of the  mental maps of those observing them. 

2nd lesson – Ask the right questions to the right people and you will receive the right answers.

The second lesson you may learn in a horse assisted education event is that your capacity for resource usage is limited by your ability to ask questions, your choices concerning to whom you address them and your listening availability. You noticed it! It has little to do with the actual available resources. 

Are you asking questions about resources to the right people? Are your questions exploring or trying to prove your point?

 

3rd lesson – What about your team’s  internal resources?

The third lesson which arises with some teams relates to internal existing resources. Someone in the team foresees both the problems and the solutions a bit ahead of everyone else. When does he speak up? When is he listened to?

How are the internal knowledge resources being used? Feel free to touch upon ego and status! 

4th lesson – Self-imposed limits

The fourth lesson springs from the subject of time. We see many teams self-impose limits pertaining to time. Mainly for safety reasons, some exercises have no defined time frame, or the pace is simply imposed to a walk level. Speed of physical movement is not the point in horse assisted education. In this context, every now and then, teams impose a limit either on the total time or on the time allotted to each individual on the team. Time is indeed limited. The questions to ask may be: What additional limits should we set for ourselves? What are the criteria for setting those limits?

On a larger scale: What are the real limits versus the self-imposed limits? What limits can we negotiate, remove or change?

5th lesson – Know your stakeholders well!

The fifth lesson is about stakeholders, beneficiaries and partners. Who teams up with whom? Who’s needs are considered? (and who’s are not!) Are there any “collateral victims”? 

Should your resource management goals be stated at the strategic level, you can even go beyond decisions and actions and test multiple strategies, by changing the role the horses play in a given exercise. 

If you have the approach and want to test it or if you are building it now, book a one-day activity with horses. It will be the best investment of your team’s time!