Leadership, Love And Boundaries
“Lesson number one about boundaries is congruence. You have to know where your edge is and be willing to communicate it even when there’s something you want, like love,… No boundaries and what you get can turn toxic or dangerous really quickly.”
The quote above is from one of my clients, and it’s such a great weave of how the work in our session with the horses translated into real life where real boundary issues are at the root of so many other issues and challenges. Executive Coach and speaker, Janet Schieferdecker (http://janetschieferdecker.com) learned one of the most valuable lessons as soon as she stepped into the paddock. Had I not been there, she might have learned that lesson in a much more painful way. I’ll let her tell it in her own words.
According To Janet
There I was at the paddock gate. Finally. I had been dreaming of this moment. The moment I got to be in the field with the horses. Not gazing longingly from afar, or having an awkward, fleeting connection when they were in a stable and I was outside. But in the field with no barriers. Just me and the horses.
And Alyssa. Alyssa Aubrey, the proprietor of Medicine Horse Ranch, handed me a stick saying, “This is a boundary stick.” She planted it in front of me to show me how to use it. I took it in my hands inquiringly. Why would I need to set a boundary? I was secretly hoping one of the horses would come close.≠
From across the field a handsome black and white (find out breed) moved towards us quickly. Alyssa stated calmly “Look, here comes Billy Comanche, you’ll need to set a boundary” and gestured towards the stick, now held loosely in my hand. I watched him approach mesmerized.
Though my hands were at my side, they might as well have been flung wide open in a welcoming hug. Now Alyssa was speaking more urgently. “Really, you need to set a boundary. He’s coming in too quickly!”
I stood still, gazing longingly and thinking “Horsey!!! I love horses!” Suddenly Alyssa was in action, grabbing the stick out of my hands, stepping in front of me, and planting it hard upon the ground in the manner of Gandalf in “The Lord of the Rings” when he’s protecting the fellowship from the Balrog. She said nothing, but everything in her energy, motion and being communicated “Thou shalt not pass!” And indeed, Billy Comanche stopped short a few feet from the stick.
Alyssa turned and looked at me over her shoulder amazed. “He was coming in too fast and he weighs about 1,000 pounds more than you. Why didn’t you set a boundary?” My shame faced mumbling told my story, I had wanted him to come in close to me.
“Janet,” she explained as she stepped away from being between me and the horse and moved back to my side, “there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. It’s great to not be afraid and to want to touch him, but you need to communicate your terms. Otherwise, he’ll continue to come in disrespectfully and just be too much. It’s dangerous.” Billy Comanche obligingly tried to take a step forward and put his head roughly into my space.
“See? Set a boundary.” I did as she asked, and the horse stepped back. I felt slightly disappointed but decided to trust the process. “Once he’s being polite you can let him approach on your terms,” Alyssa coached.
We then worked with Billy and the boundary stick until I could stop him consistently. Then Alyssa took the stick away and coached me how to do it energetically, without needing a stick or words. The trick, it turned out, is congruence. I had to learn to truly want to stop him, before I could communicate it.
In the end, Billy did indeed let me touch him while standing respectfully where I was asking him to stand. And when he gave an affectionate nuzzle, he maintained his respect and didn’t try to bowl me over.
Congruence means being in agreement, a state of harmony and compatibility. In life, be it business or personal relationships, it is impossible to be congruent if no boundaries have been established. It’s impossible to be in “agreement” if nothing has been agreed upon. We typically make assumptions and proceed as if everyone knows what our assumptions are. Of course, they have their own assumptions and when those are not adhered to, incongruity sets in.
As Janet learned from working with the horses, “What’s true for horses is true in human love, in life, in the office, and certainly in defending your priority work—what most matters.”
At Medicine Horse Ranch, we design custom horse-assisted education (HAE) programs for groups, individuals, businesses and organizations around any number of relevant issues and/or topics, one of which is setting and establishing boundaries. If you, your company or team would like to explore a leadership model that has been successful for millions of years, give us a call.