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Let Them Be Right - Igniting employee motivation

Almost daily, when working with our horses, I think about workplace leadership and the issues that can crop up with people.


About nine months ago we had a new horse join our Salta team. She was a tall, rangy, big hearted mare called Peggy Sue. Once she was settled in and recovered from some minor health issues, I began working with her and after a short time we rode out together regularly.


Being a horse with a willing work ethic, Peggy Sue would do everything that was asked of her, but with her ears back, much hesitation and not a lot of joy. In human terms I guess you could say she looked unmotivated and disengaged.


No matter what I tried, I couldn’t figure out how to help Peggy Sue to enjoy and not dread her work, so I asked a good friend and horsemanship mentor for advice.

She simply said, “let her be right’. I realised that in the past this horse had so many different owners with different expectations, that she was afraid to get things wrong with me.

So, every day, whenever she did something I asked of her, even if her response was incorrect, I rewarded her with warm praise. She never did anything dangerous, but she certainly acted very confused and concerned.Gradually, Peggy Sue's demeanor changed from worried and somewhat sour, to relaxed and motivated. I continued to reassure that she was “doing right” all the way along.


I have seen the same scenario with some people I have managed over the years. These are people who have never had the chance to build their confidence, leaving them too anxious to really step into their potential, make mistakes and give their best.


I believe that as leaders, we have a responsibility to let our people be right. Give them permission to try things and offer them the dignity to make mistakes, learn and grow.


This week, Peggy Sue and I have been riding out a bit faster. I’m quite out of practice at the quicker gaits, but Peggy Sue just keeps on going along without reacting or criticism. I am grateful that she is letting me be right while I work out how to do better.


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Wow, what an amazing experience.

It was a chance to get up close to something that was larger and much more powerful than me without feeling fear or anxiety. I was asked to do some simple activities that required me to enter into a contract with the horse.

Words like unconditional trust, setting aside any preconceived notions of how we communicate without words and faith in one’s own abilities come to mind when I think about that day.

I gained such a deep understanding of my own processes which were personal and unique.

- Ruby