All Leaders Should Own Horses

Employees want to know how to behave toward their colleagues. Leading? Demanding? Dominant? Subordinate? New employees do not always find their way into the team immediately. Some team leaders earn their position through strength and performance, while other leaders are de facto “elected” by their employees. Furthermore, the supposed bosses are not always the only or even actual managers of the employees.

Team members are herd animals

The last paragraph sounds familiar from everyday work? Most certainly! What if I now say that these statements do not come from reference books on leadership and team building, but rather from literature on the herd behavior of horses? After a brief moment of amazement, this will certainly meet with approval.

In many respects, the dynamics within teams resemble those of a herd of horses. Certainly, one of the biggest mistakes managers make is assuming that they will always manage to put together a perfect team. But this is certainly not true. Just like in the animal world, in business you sometimes have to admit that – regardless of professional qualifications – some groups simply don’t harmonize. The fact is that both animals and people need to be able to “smell each other.” Unclear relationships create uncertainty, discomfort and stress.

In the end, the team (the herd) decides for itself whether and how it works together. Of course, the manager can exert influence to a certain extent, but there are limits here. Isolated employees or overly dominant and troublemaking colleagues are often poison for the team.

Important To Know About Leadership

How does one actually become a manager?

The next big mistake managers make is to believe that you can determine leaders. Rarely does the best or most experienced employee also become a very good leader. Rather, it is the will to be the boss that is the decisive factor. And this will, in combination with actual ability, is often recognized more clearly and more quickly by team members than by managers.

Horses know two ways to become herd bosses: either the strongest animal asserts itself through impertinence and scuffles (analogous to the occupation: performance and strength) or lower-ranking animals “choose” their boss by seeking the proximity of a level-headed, calm, experienced and yet self-confident conspecific and joining him.

Can the herd-like performance principle and this form of democracy, i.e. electing the superior or representative, also work in companies? Absolutely – as long as the culture of the company allows and promotes it! In any case, it is highly likely that an organically formed team structure is sustainable and harmonious. Of course, this does not relieve management of the task of setting up teams in a professional and goal- or profit-oriented manner.

Ranking and leading tasks in the team

What right do the managers have to decide how exactly the work is distributed in the team? Who takes the first shift, who does the creative and who the technical part, who writes the documentation and who holds training sessions? Horses sort things out among themselves and create their own strict rules – and are happy with them. Admittedly, with horses the rules are limited to the order in which they eat and the question of who is allowed to shelter when it rains. Nevertheless, nature shows us the advantages of a self-determined group formation.

By the way, a herd of wild horses usually has two leaders at the same time: the lead stallion, who is without question the strongest animal and holds the group together, and the “manager”, i.e. the actual boss, who organizes and coordinates – and is usually an experienced mare in mixed herds. Often we also know this from teams, when next to the manager there is a second “shadow team leader”, who enjoys the trust of the group and distributes the actual work. Nature is also groundbreaking here, and knew diversity long before humans.

Managers and leaders who have themselves dealt with herding horses or other herd animals will most likely find it easier to assemble and lead a team. Team members are herd animals. However, this qualification can be learned – at least to a certain extent. I am happy to support team building in the form of management consulting.

Team Forming

A lot of input about herd behavior of horses has been taken with appreciation from this outstanding article.

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