Good day, team.
This week’s challenge, “Give Them Some Rope,” is the third installment in my Horse Sense series. If you’ve been following my horse adventures, you know that I’ve leased a wonderful horse named Treasure for the summer. Over the past three months, Treasure has taught me many lessons, some of which I’ve tried to capture in my weekly writing.
Last week, Treasure taught me about allowing her to do it her way and not imposing my will on her. And that’s the theme of this week’s challenge, too.
This past Friday, I went out to Kozy Manor, the stables where Treasure lives, for my weekly horse lesson. I found her out in the pasture, happily enjoying her breakfast in the company of another mare. Convincing a horse that being haltered and put on a lead rope in such a pastoral setting where she’s been allowed to roam free and eat good grass, is no easy task. But this morning, Treasure only snorted at me a few times when I put the halter around her head.
I intended to work with her on a much longer lead line, so I walked her out to the open arena where we’d have plenty of room. I hooked her halter to a 24-foot rope rather than the usual 12-foot rope, knowing that this would give her lots of room to move, but it would be much more challenging for me to control her.
Treasure immediately tested the length of the rope, and I suddenly realized the power of this animal. She moved around a lot faster than usual, and the pull on the rope was much greater than I was accustomed to. As she pulled harder on the rope, so did I, and each time I yanked the rope back, she would stop and face me with a confused look on her face. Why was I giving her all this freedom only to try and stop her? It was a mixed message for sure.
As I worked with Treasure that morning, I saw the same phenomenon over and over again. I would instruct her to do something for me, give her lots of lead rope to do it, and then, when I was afraid that I was losing control, I would yank her back. Instead of teaching her how to do something, I was confusing her. There had to be a better way! My growing anxiety and frustration only increased my inability to work successfully with her.
We often do this exact thing with people who work for us. We ask them to do something and give them lots of freedom to do it. And then when we become afraid that something isn’t going quite right, we yank the rope back, so to speak, to get them under our control. Meanwhile, the mixed message this tactic sends creates resentment and confusion. Have you ever heard the phrase, “They’re jerking my chain”? That’s a phrase I often hear from my clients when their boss suddenly tries to take back a project or assignment after things aren’t going quite right.
At one point in my lesson with Treasure, she actually did what I asked her to do but she did it going in the wrong direction. I yanked hard on the rope, and my teacher asked me, “Why didn’t you recognize that she did what you asked her to?” And I said, “Because she didn’t do it the way I wanted her to.” My teacher laughed. “Really?” she said. “Did you want her to do it the way she’s learning to do it or the way you expected her to do it? And why are you so anxious about giving her lots of room to learn? If you keep yanking on that rope, she’ll never be able to work it out. You’ll just continue to frustrate both of you. Try holding the rope closer to where she is and when she pulls on it, let the rope slide through your hands for a foot or so and then slowly pull on it. This will let her know that she’s got room to learn and will encourage her to work it out. And don’t forget to let her know when she actually does what you’re asking her to do. It may not be exactly as you envisioned, but recognizing that she did what you asked is key to her learning.”
How many times do we ask others to do something for us, but because they don’t do it exactly the way we want them to, we forget to recognize what they’ve accomplished? So many times my clients have said to me, “Geez, what do they want? They asked me to take ownership for this project, and then they swooped back in and took over when I didn’t do it exactly the way they expected. It’s so frustrating! First they empower me, and then they micro-manage me!”
This week, take a look at how you manage others in this context. Are you giving them a mixed message by asking them to take over a project or an assignment and then taking it back when you see it’s not going as you expected? Are you appreciating the way others do things even if its different from the way you would do it? Is your fear of losing control motivating you to jump back in and take over?
Try doing what my teacher suggested ― give them more rope. It doesn’t mean you let the rope go. It means that when you feel the urge to yank the rope back, let some more of it go instead. Then if you still see that you need to pull on the rope, do it gently. Try giving someone the space they need to learn how to do something even if it takes them briefly in the wrong direction. There’s a lot to be learned by taking a detour off any given path. Going in the wrong direction first is often what helps us learn how to make our way back to where we need to be.
Recognizing how someone learns to do something is key to good management and mentorship. Perhaps the only way my horse could do what I asked her to do in that moment was to go in the opposite direction. I envisioned her going to the right, but she managed to do it going to the left. Because she didn’t go exactly as I thought she should, I missed the most important part ― that she did what I really wanted her to do. If I’d given her more rope, I might have seen that she gave me what I was asking for, even if it wasn’t exactly how I wanted her to do it. Most important, in those few feet of rope, I could learn that by releasing rather than yanking, we both stay involved in the learning.
As Benjamin Franklin wrote;
“Tell me, and I forget. Teach me, and I remember. Involve me, and I learn.”
Have a good week!
P.S. The coach will be on vacation for a few days. The next challenge will be published on 9/29/13
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