Follow a Leader?

Mar 23


1 Responses


Helen Whitten

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Follow a Leader?

How have we ended up with Donald Trump?  What have we, the US, the world done to deserve him?  It started off as a joke.  It’s no joke now.  It’s deadly serious.

Of all the brilliant, talented, creative, and wise people in America how has he climbed to the top of the pile?  Latest figures show that the population of America is approximately 326, 492, 060 now.  It’s hard to believe that from this huge number the people of America have ended up with the lousy choice they now have.

What kind of role model is this man for the children of the world?  This presidential election and the level of the personal backbiting the candidates have applied debases the concept of intelligent political debate.  Surely the status of this powerful country will be lowered while the rest of the world looks on in amazement?  With Trump on one side of the world and Kim Jong-un at the other with Putin in the middle, the world seems a genuinely scary place.

Of course only the wealthy, or those who can attract wealth, can rise to the top in the US.  The exposure to press criticism may well also have a bearing.  A leader has to be courageous to put their opinions on the line in this era of political correctness – and terrorism.  There are few previous leaders of any nation whose private life would have stood up to the sort of scrutiny that today’s leaders face.

And now there is fierce back-biting in the UK Government, the focus of which seems to offer little to the stability of this country.  And again, there is knee-jerk response rather than intelligent discussion of the issues.

So I woke this morning reflecting on two moments in my life where I experienced leadership.  The first was when I observed a leader who was able to guide a group across rapids and waterfalls in Mexico.  He was a Shaman, Mario, showing us the Mayan tombs and surrounding areas.  A youngish man (to me!), probably in his forties, with a quiet presence.  Indeed, the only Shaman I met on the trip for whom I gained respect.  He was a slight man with a pony tail.  And all he said to us, quietly, was to follow his footsteps as precisely as we could and to help one another.  Just these two things, said with enough conviction that each one of us heard him.

We were a motley crew.  Most of us well over forty years old, some with cardiac problems and bypasses, others who had recently had hip replacements, and more.  But we took care of one another on the journey across the mountain pools, helped the weaker ones to climb up the rocks to the next pool or held their hand to ensure they didn’t slip on the edge of the waterfall.  Mario said nothing more to us and gently balanced his way along the precarious stones and through the waters.  There was no shouting, no motivational speech.  He simply generated in us a sense of trust that he knew where he was going and he knew how to take us there.  It was impressive.

The second time was when I participated in a horse-whispering leadership day.  I have ridden all my life but this was something different.  I was shown into a large indoor ring and a black pony was released into the ring with me.  My instruction was to encourage the horse to follow me.  And I felt lost – why should he?  I had no halter, no sugar lump and no means of reaching this result in a way that I would previously have adopted.  I wasn’t allowed to touch him other than to stroke him and talk with him.

The first thing he did was trot to the corner of the ring where there was an open stable door. He stood and looked outside to the field beyond.  I felt a complete idiot: how was I supposed to tempt him back, I wondered?

So I went to him and, as the actions of the horse were reputedly a mirror metaphor of my own experience, I could see exactly why he had gone there.  Both he and I would rather have been outside, free, and in that field!

So now what?  I fiddled around with him, walking hesitantly in one direction or another.  He looked totally disinterested and stayed exactly where he was.

“Do you know where you want him to go?” the leadership facilitator asked me.  Aha!  Now there was a clue.  I hadn’t thought about where I might take him.  “If you don’t know where you’re going then why should he follow you?”

Suddenly I got it.  The concept of the inner energy that Mario had in taking us across the waterfalls.  The inner certainty of where I wanted this horse to go in the ring.  I could feel my body language changing as that sense of direction came into my mind, emotion and physiology.  I stood taller, opened my shoulders, changed my breathing away from doubt and took a determined step forward.  He followed!  Wow, was that exciting!  And then he followed me around the ring, in figures of eight, on to trot and reverse.  Why should he have done?  I wasn’t rewarding him with titbits of a bonus but nonetheless the bond we created worked.

In both these moments there was much that was non-verbal.  When I had doubt or fear or was unclear about where I was going the horse did not follow me.  He didn’t trust me, and with good reason.  When I was clear and confident, he did.  Mario knew this and he kept us safe that day with his inner energy.

We are all leaders in our own way – in our own lives, in our families, at work.  So, as I go forward into retirement, I shall need to remind myself of this clarity, confidence and sense of direction.  In the meantime, I shall hope that Americans do not follow the angry energy of Mr Donald Trump.


One Response

  1. ‘Seek first to understand…’. Like you, I don’t understand. And yet. Almost everyone I speak to (in the UK) is horrified at the thought of Donald Trump becoming the Republican nominee, let alone the President. And that includes me. And yet…

    Clearly we can’t assume that all the Americans who are voting for him now – and likely to do so in the presidential election – are stupid, blind or as vicious and limited in vision as Trump appears to be. Perhaps it’s time for us to start wondering what they are all seeing that we are not.

    I was working with a group of twentysomethings in Switzerland recently, from all over the world – including America. They were intelligent, bright and politically engaged – and all the Americans were pro-Trump – broadly because they were fed up with the establishment. I was bemused and horrified in equal measure. The circumstances didn’t allow me to question them too closely about his appeal – but it did start me wondering what they are seeing that I am not. My first instinct was to dismiss their attraction to Trump as another example of the folly of youth. But that is pretty condescending. And anyone it certainly isn’t only the young or the hard of thinking who are being wooed by Trump.

    The day is fast approaching (quite possibly) when we will need to understand him and his appeal. Because we – the rest of the world – will have to work with him!

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