The future of leadership selection: horses

horseYou read it correctly; horses can be instrumental in the assessment of leaders. Well that’s according to The Leadership Whisperers – a company which works with organisations to do just this. I can’t say I’m particularly sold on the idea, but is there any genuine evidence behind the claims?


The company’s founder believes the reason why horses are so useful is simple. They mirror our non-verbal communication and respond to our energy, emotions and intentions, unlike humans who tend to focus on each other’s words. And at a recent event with recruiters, we are told that horses demonstrated just how they can assess a person’s leadership capability. Three attendees were asked to lead a horse around a figure of eight course. Meanwhile spectators were asked to feedback on the performance of each and what their time with the horse said about their leadership style. Descriptions included ‘confident’, ‘hesitant’, ‘good communicator’ and ‘caring’.


Now correct me if I’m wrong but surely this exercise simply demonstrates how comfortable each participant was around horses, and not how good their leadership style is? Surely those who grew up with horses, for example, might just appear calmer than those who are perhaps frightened of horses or have simply had no exposure to them?   Maybe I’m missing a trick but I can’t say this experiment has changed my mind on the subject. What’s certain, however, is that the topic has caused ongoing debate in the BlueSky office this week. Here’s what some of the team had to say?


“I think they should stop horsing around – leadership is much more intricate than literally leading something in a figure of eight. I’m not sure what the business case for being able to provoke emotional responses in animals is but at least it would make for a good staff day out.”


Natalie Bishop


“Horses can also be leaders. The Roman emperor Caligula made his favourite horse a senator. Mind you he was completely and utterly nuts so that’s not necessarily the best recommendation.”


Adrian Barrett


“I grew up on a farm, I’ve learnt leadership skills from cattle, horses, and chickens, and sometimes just by looking at the forest. It’s interesting to see how western societies are turning away from technology and looking for answers and inspiration elsewhere – one of my clients talks about learning leadership from Tango Argentino… I am sure scientists will support the idea that we have a lot to learn from and by interacting with the animal kingdom.”


Alex Dobocan


“I have a number of issues with this, not least that I’m not sure horses are all that intelligent. Apparently they have good sense of hearing and smell that’s equivalent to a dog, but they’re not really essential skills for choosing a leader. The benefits of using horses in therapy for people with learning difficulties, for example, are clear, but I really doubt that a horse can choose who will be a good leader and who won’t.  Another issue is that surely the test favours people who like horses and know how to treat them; I’m absolutely terrified of them and can’t imagine one responding very well to me. Maybe I’m biased.”


Bruce Callander


“It might be a bit of a gimmick, but is it ludicrous to think there’s some substance to this idea?  There’s plenty of examples where animals have been of psychological benefit to people – dogs have been used in care homes help with Dementia and Alzheimer’s treatment (it’s also been said they help to prolong life), cats have been known to help people to manage stress and depression (ever hear of the cat café?) even dolphins are used in sensory treatments for various disabilities.


You may argue that horses are not necessarily smart, but they are stubborn. They’re skittish, spook easily and can be hard to tame. Workforces – particularly in the eyes of a new leader or in times of uncertainty – can be just the as difficult to manage. Perhaps they’re on to something after all.”


Kerry Gill


So that’s our opinion. Now we want to hear your thoughts – would you add horses to your selection process? Let us know below.



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