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Letting the reins out

Letting the reins out is a topic I've thought a lot about in a metaphorical kind of way. I grew up riding horses, so for me the reins are the literal method of control with the horse. We had horses on our property, and we had a barn with horse stalls. My mom took our horse business very seriously, she was strict and made sure I always put the horses needs first. And I had barn chores, lots of barn chores. As hard as it was, the work in the barn, it was always worth it and fun in the end to be with the horses, riding them, feeding them and going swimming with them in our pond. I have fond memories of my time in the barn, with the horses and sharing it all with my mom. I also have memories of begrudgingly cleaning stalls early in the morning, of using an ice pick to break up frozen water buckets in the winter, and of going out to the barn at night before my bedtime to tuck in the horses with a bite of hay and fresh water.

Like most experiences when you're younger, you live in the moment and you don't quite have the greater perspective to understand how learning to care for horses before caring for anything else would lead to having meaningful life lessons. After college I began my career in the ski industry and I filled my summers by being an Equestrian Director at a summer camp in Vermont. I managed a small staff of riding instructors, I managed a stable of 26 horses, we had over 100 children in the equestrian program per week and I enjoyed doing it. Once again, it was hard challenging work and very rewarding.

In reflection of my time with horses, both growing up and as a program Director, I recognize the many qualities of leadership I developed within myself simply through having these experiences. And the one quality that resonates with me regularly is the idea of letting the reins out. I like to do things well, and I like to have things done well by the people I work with. And what I've learned to admire in the leaders who inspire me is they manage to lead and achieve quality results, and they aren't the only one doing all of the hard work, they are the one leading the charge, inspiring others to do the hard work and their team performs at a high rate of success. These leaders have successfully taken the steps to develop trust, mutual respect and understanding between their team so they can comfortably let the reins out and achieve the desired result.

With horses, the reins are the direct contact between the rider and the horses mouth. It's with the reins that a horse rider is able to train a horse to respond to directional changes and to specific movements through the contact created in the riders hands and translated through a leather rein to the horses mouth. Horses outweigh humans by a lot, the horse has direct contact with the ground while the rider sits on the horses back. So logic would lead us to believe that the horse has the control, the horse is larger and on the ground. This is similar to many businesses. The front line staff is larger in quantity to the management team, and the front line staff is usually in the position to make or break the business.

When riding a new or unfamiliar horse the rider will keep the rein contact a bit tighter to ensure there is trust and respect between horse and rider, once the rapport is built and there is an understanding the rider can loosen the reins a bit. However with the loosened reins it's important to maintain balance, to be in the present moment. One small thing can cause a horse to jump to the side in fright and if the rider has relaxed and let go of complete control it's likely the rider will be flung from the horses back in a moment. As a leader it's important to build trust and rapport with your team by first keeping close contact, establishing the ground rules and developing a clear understanding of expectations. Once these things are built a leader can begin to "loosen the reins" and let their team perform under the parameters set. The leader however needs to stay involved, involved enough to be able to jump in at a moments notice and guide the team through any surprises they may encounter.

Horses respond well to boundaries and so do most work teams. Horses in herds have a pecking order, it's usually well established and respected among the herd. In leadership there are times to take the reins and guide the team, reminding them to continue on their path. Like horses, people seek strong mentors, role models who can guide their ambitions. Times of change usually will highlight the most effective leaders, change brings with it challenge. If the boundaries and expectations were firmly created between the leader and the team, if they all know how to get to the center, the grounding place where the reins are just right, a leader will guide a team through change with ease and success, and with the ability to let the reins out successfully.

This is true when leading others and when leading yourself. I've recently led myself to reach a huge personal goal, and I did it by trusting in myself that I had the capability to make it happen. For me to let my own reins out on myself I had to build trust and respect with myself. We are often our own worst critics, we often are the only thing standing right in our way. We often avoid change because change brings with it the unknown, and the unknown is uncertain. What do I do with my reins when things are unknown? Letting the reins out on yourself is a huge step, it was for me. And from my recent experience it's been amazing to discover the possibilities. I now believe I'm strong enough to stand in my own balance, I now know how much rein contact I need with myself, to trust in myself and in my vision and belief. And it's this that led me to believe I could make a dream a reality. Letting my own reins out, has led me to my new business Leading Fields LLC.

I plan to take this into my professional life as well, and I'm excited to see what will develop as a result. What will letting the reins out do for you, personally and professionally?

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