Category Archives: EAL

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Learn a Flexible Management Style

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Ever struggle with how to manage someone?

Ever discover your style isn’t perfect?!

Well, ever tried ’round penning’ a horse?  This exercise helped a sales manager evaluate her management style.

An EAL (Equine Assisted Learning) participant’s job during this exercise is to get a horse to circle the perimeter of the pen, following their guidance. Sounds easy, right?

There are a few challenges that present themselves when round penning. Firstly, a participant is alone during this task. This can prove intimidating for people who are new with large animals. Secondly, each horse has unique behavioural quirks that can help or hinder the person guiding them, depending on their personality. Some horses are hard to move forward, others are hard to slow down. In all cases, the goal of this exercise is to reach a point where the horse walks at a person’s shoulder, at mirror paces.

While this exercise is completed, facilitators offer their guidance as needed. Some participants require more encouragement to get their horses moving. Some are naturals out of the gate, and are left to their own devices

One day, during the recap session of this exercise, a confident sales manager was the first to speak. She said she learned something that amazed her and would change her management style going forward.  She mentioned that her approach to leadership in the work place is typically hiring people and allowing them to do their jobs. Since she hires capable people, she had thus far assumed that her input was not necessary.

She was both amazed and inspired at the instructor’s selective involvement with their participants.

The leadership style that the sales manager embodied is known as laissez-faire, while the style embodied by the facilitators is referred to as participative. There are three generally cited styles of leadership, the third being autocratic. While each style has its own advantages and disadvantages, participative leadership (also known as “democratic” leadership) is generally thought to be the most effective at creating a healthy work environment.

Here’s why.

First, let’s start off with the manager’s style of instruction: laissez-faire. A laissez-faire leader lacks direct supervision of employees. While highly experienced employees can thrive under this type of leadership, new comers and young workers may find themselves struggling. A lack of regular feedback can ultimately lead to poor production and a lack of control over a work environment.

Next: autocratic leadership. This leadership style allows managers to make decisions without consulting their staff. Managers possess total authority over their employees, and no one is allowed to challenge their decisions. While this style of leadership may be useful during moments that require high stress, quick decision making – say, a problem arises minutes before a deadline is due- it ultimately stifles the creativity of employees.

Participative leadership strives to create the best of both worlds between these two leadership styles. Intervention takes place when it is necessary, but employees are left to their own devices when they have a handle on things. The end result is a collaborative relationship between an employer and their employees.

After her moment of enlightenment when watching our facilitators, our confident manager mentioned that, while it was reasonable to let her confident sales reps do their own thing, she could see herself taking more initiative to help out a worker who was struggling. She initially saw her hands-off management style as the “best” style.  Now she realized it was not only OK, but a sign of excellence, to change her style as needed.

Why didn’t our manager learn this during her successful career?  Why did she learn it now?

  • She was able to watch the process without thinking of it as watching how people do or should manage. She just experienced several different circumstances and was inspired to make her own conclusions.
  • She experienced the event in a novel environment – novelty helps us learn.
  • Experiential learning is deeper learning: “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.” – Confucius.  Our sales manager not only watched others, she was in the round pen too.

Essentially, she stepped outside the box in her learning journey.


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Appearance of Leadership

Look like a Leader

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Round and round, Dundee, a small grey mare, followed Tuffy, a large, brown gelding.

Or so it seemed.

As a crowd of EAL participants watched, a question was presented: which horse was the leader? The participants were quick to pin point Tuffy, the brown gelding, as dominant. After all, he was trotting at the front of the twosome.

However, as time passed, with closer observation, someone exclaimed:

“Hey, wait a minute. She’s not following him. She’s pushing him around!”

Appearance can Deceive

Who’s the LeaderWhich was indeed the case. Dundee is dominant over Tuffy.

Do appearances matter? It appears they do, when making first impressions.

There are obviously certain things that we as individuals cannot control when presenting ourselves visually: our race, gender, and height, for instance.

After the EAL session, participants were asked why they initially assumed that Tuffy was leading. Aside from his obvious position in front of Dundee, participants pointed out that his large size, his dark colour, and his gender (male), initially lead them to believe that he was the more powerful out of the two. Obviously, Dundee being small, white and female didn’t affect her ability to boss Tuffy around (you go girl). But, nevertheless, a certain judgement was made about her based on these things.

In 2016, Allure conducted a national survey of 2,500 people to uncover truths about the importance of appearances. In one startling finding, 64 percent of people admitted that the first thing they noticed about a person when first meeting them is how attractive they are. And half of the participants thought that appearances define us significantly or completely. These facts might seem obvious, or disheartening, or perhaps boring, but they nevertheless confirm an unignorable truth: we live in a judge-and-be-judged world.

Thankfully, some autonomy still remains on our side of the court, when shooting to make a good professional impression, even if there are things about our appearance that we cannot change.

Whether we’re applying for a corporate position at a prestigious law firm, or a hip, new writing job at an up and coming magazine, the key to making a positive visual impression isn’t necessarily to try to force ourselves into one mode of presenting yourself. It is to pick up on what certain modes of dress mean in different environments, and to discern which is appropriate to adopt for a position you are vying for.

“If you know that you’re applying at a traditional firm meaning any law firm, accounting firm, government agency, healthcare or financial services firm, dress the part, all the way!” says Liz Ryan, CEO/ founder of Human Workplace, in an article for Forbes .

Conversely, Ryan notes that “many creative firms and some start-ups turn up their noses at people who dress traditionally on their interviews.”

“They say ‘It’s not our culture to wear suits and ties, and anyone who wants to work at our little, funky firm should understand that.'” she says.

Ultimately, work attire is like a costume at a theatre performance.  It is simply a tool that can be used to convey certain connotations to our peers. How we choose our attire is up to us, and the specific environment that we work in.

Two participants in this particular round penning exercise were from the HR department of the same company; and they spoke about how this small part of the workshop affected their perception of their specific jobs.  One thing they were responsible for was preparing up and coming managers for their first management roles.  And counselling them on how to achieve that position.

They decided they were going to spend time with potential managers talking to them about the importance of dressing as if they already had the role they want.  Because we all have preconceived notions of what a leader looks like.

The horses taught a lesson that hit home harder than articles often can.

Dressing for the job that we want to land may seem arbitrary, be we at the interview stage or in the office, applying for a promotion. But, appearances do matter, whether we are conscious of judgements or not.


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