A Midland businesswoman has traded a stable job in the city for a start-up offering leadership training – using horses
Former IBM manager Jude Jennison worked for the American technology company for 16 years before finding her new calling in coaching and management training on a year’s sabbatical.
Ms Jennison now runs Leaders by Nature, which includes senior executive training with two horses, from stables near her Warwickshire home in Moreton Morrell.
The theory is that individuals only realise how they impact on others when communication comes through mutual understanding and trust. To make the horses obey one requires softer and less tangible skills.
Ms Jennison trained as a coach at IBM and was one-time skills leader for around 20,000 employees across Europe.
She established her business in October 2010, but first encountered the concept of working with horses the following year, when learning to overcome her fear of them.
“I was working with a trainer for a German outfit, Horse Dream, and booked a two-hour session, but he was so good at bringing me and the horses together, that I lost my fear in the first few minutes,” she said.
“Horses don’t know who you are, or how important you might be in your environment, because out in the field, you are in their environment, so it’s about your energy, how you approach them, and how you establish a rapport.
“I looked at how horses could be used to develop and enhance leadership skills, bought my first horse in December 2011, and started working with her in January 2012. I soon found myself face-down in the mud, but I kept at it, and took on a second horse last spring.
“They’re both strong and opinionated beasts, who require firm leadership, which is ideal.”
Prices at Leaders by Nature start at £950 for two people, but Ms Jennison would not reveal her corporate rates.
She said in the last six months she has been booked for about four to six days a month, which is the most she allows for the horses.
“There are 15 of us who have been trained by Horse Dream, designed by a German guy who has trained about 250 people across Europe,” she added. “Historically people have worked with horses for therapeutic reasons but we work with corporate leaders and that’s unique.”
Ms Jennison said when clients arrive for a session they usually feel awkward, but it doesn’t takes long before they get into it.
“I explain beforehand that perhaps only 10 per cent of the ways in which we communicate are through words, and the rest is about energy, emotions and intentions, which is what horses read.
“Some people have such high energy and are so intense that they frighten the horses, so the chances are they do so when they meet people.
“I teach people how to soften their energy and develop silent skills to build a rapport with the horse and take the new approach back to their organisation.”
Ms Jennison said that during the recession senior management are afraid to get things wrong and so hold back.
“Many corporates have been asking how to get their directors to be more influential, more confident and to step out of their comfort zone.
“Senior leaders need more confidence to bring all of themselves into play and to have more presence and impact,” she said. “At the same time, they can’t force themselves to act out of character.
“These issues are very clear when clients are working with our horses Kalle and Opus.
“If they are too soft and gentle, or equally, if they try too hard, the horses take the lead, and either refuse to move their feet, or drag the person around the arena.
“There’s a really fine balance between passive and assertive and aggressive, and the horses will only follow if people hit the sweet spot of assertiveness.”
Panasonic’s HR director for the UK, Richard Mills, did a taster day at Leaders by Nature to see if the exercises worked as a new approach to ‘experiential learning’.
Mr Mills said: “There are many different offers in this arena; some of it is just rubbish, but we’re always looking for ways to challenge the way people work and think outside their usual environment and I was very impressed by Jude, as an observer, a coach and a facilitator.”