The Power of the Herd – Building Social Intelligence, Visionary Leadership and Authentic Community through the Way of the Horse
The Power of the Herd is essentially two books in one:
- Part I, “A Brief History of Power” looks at the history of power, leadership and social evolution from an emotional/social intelligence point of view.
- Part II, “Horse Sense at Work,” introduces practical skills to cultivate emotional/social intelligence, non-predatory power, leadership, authentic community, and visionary skills.
The “Other 90 Percent”
- Psychologists have shown that only about ten percent of human communication is verbal. Somewhere around ninety percent of the messages we send back and forth to each other are nonverbal. And yet in our culture, we are increasingly mesmerized by words, conditioned over time to ignore that crucial “other 90 percent,” leading to a self-imposed de-evolution of human intelligence if left unchecked over time.
- “Leadership presence” is primarily a non-verbal phenomenon, yet where do we go to exercise that “other 90 percent?” History shows that horses are experts at helping people develop the power, focus, balance-in-motion, emotional intelligence, social intelligence, and the physical/mental/emotional collection demanded of great leaders. Alexander the Great, the Buddha, George Washington, Andrew Jackson, Winston Churchill, and Ronald Reagan are examples of influential, charismatic leaders who developed significant nonverbal acuity and influence through extensive time spent in the saddle. They were all dedicated, in some cases exceptional, horsemen. Yet they also stand out because they were able to transfer some of these skills to human settings. Regardless of policy and agenda, these men exhibited exceptional courage, conviction, clarity of intention, and poise under pressure — with a marked talent for motivating large populations to endure the discomfort and uncertainty involved in creating innovative empires and/or significant social change.
- Washington and Churchill in particular used their hard-won horse sense to de-escalate fear in groups of people facing life-threatening situations, illustrating that confident, accomplished, well-meaning leaders strive to reduce anxiety and boost clear thinking in their followers, encouraging cooperation and creative problem solving. On the other hand, insecure, opportunistic (or simply immature) leaders regularly stir up fear and conflict, often with the conscious intention of short-circuiting independent thought and innovation.
- The book looks at current events, human potential, and history from a cathedral thinking point of view. The term describes an emerging philosophy that explores the mindset involved in tackling any long term vision. It contrasts markedly with our modern, quick-fix mentality, but socially conscious leaders recognize that significant sustainable change requires generational effort — much like Germany’s Cologne Cathedral took 632 years to build.
- The Power of the Herd is ultimately concerned with social evolution, the long, slow process of moving from a predatory dominance-submission paradigm (one that employs fear, intimidation, trauma, and disempowerment to nourish the few at the expense of the many) to independence (an initially invigorating yet problematic, adolescent stage of development) to empowered interdependence where groups of people learn how collaborate effectively and considerately. The latter stage draws on the “power of the herd,” the ability of an authentic community to negotiate and support individual and group needs simultaneously, boosting inspiration, innovation, and connection, continually adjusting to challenging circumstances while fostering an adaptable yet joyful, balanced, sustainable lifestyle.
- Significant emotional and social intelligence skills are needed for an “empowered interdependence” stage of social evolution to reach fruition. In the U.S., we are teetering back and forth between the adolescent independence stage and the first tentative hints of a not-yet-fully-empowered interdependence stage.
- One of the most significant, and least conscious, blocks to our success in this effort involves the association of power with predatory behavior. Human beings are not carnivores; they are omnivores with characteristics of both predator and prey. Conquest-oriented civilizations have over-emphasized predatory patterns, habitually producing aggressive leaders who intimidate, manipulate, and prey on the population at large. Over the course of history, mainstream culture has lost contact with non-predatory forms of power and intelligence, but a number of significant social innovators have accessed it, often unconsciously, through close association with the horse.
The Wisdom of the Horse
- The horse, as an individual, is a powerful animal able, in partnership with human beings, to transcend its own flight or fight instincts, showing exceptional courage in war, in exploration, and in adapting to a wide variety of eco-systems. Openness to learning from horses, rather than dominating, abusing and discarding them like objects, helps people reconnect with a different form of power.
- Horse herds exemplify collective non-predatory power in action. They are adept at negotiating individual and group needs simultaneously. And they are living examples of the evolutionary advantage of mutual aid over competition. Predators, even groups of predators like wolf packs, rarely attack herds of adult horses as they are incredibly dangerous when they join forces to protect themselves. And yet, horses do not “go for the throat” or enact revenge. And contrary to popular belief, they do not live in fear. They demonstrate high levels of emotional agility, going “back to grazing” after eluding or fighting predators, spending the largest portion of each day in a state of relaxed awareness, gentle exploration, joyful play, deep peace, and profound connection.
George Washington’s Evolutionary Leadership
- To imagine how we might move toward an “empowered interdependence” stage of social development, with the least amount of pain and confusion, it helps to look at George Washington as an evolutionary leader, one who did in fact draw on non-predatory forms of power and awareness at crucial times in his career. It’s truly an eye-opening experience to look at Washington’s life from an emotional and social intelligence point of view, paying special attention to the nonverbal skills he deftly transferred from the saddle to his interactions with people.
- In this effort, it’s important to realize that he was considered one of the best, if not the best, horse trainers in the colonies. Historic records clearly illustrate that working with horses facilitated his development of that “other 90 percent.”
- Washington re-appears throughout the book, offering valuable insights through a multi-disciplinary look at his career and the evolution of his own character: from a naturally aggressive and ambitious young man to a mature alpha-style leader capable of tremendous compassion and emotional heroism. The book also takes a sobering look at the destructive by-products of freedom that Washington was unable to surmount as America’s first President, issues that still plague our political system, requiring yet another leap of human imagination and leadership.
- Among the many innovations Washington exemplified, his advanced leadership abilities bring to light skills modern leaders need to consciously resurrect: most notably fear management, fierce sensitivity, emotional heroism, and a policy of humanity. The latter innovation prevented General Washington’s justifiably angry, long-suffering troops from exercising revenge, effectively keeping civilians and enemy captives from being needlessly traumatized by the war. This was crucial in reducing post-war, PTSD-based violence and in gaining loyal converts to democracy.
- Washington also had a rare talent for learning from his mistakes and revising his approach, modifying beliefs and long-entrenched personal habits that were clearly beneficial in previous contexts. One of the most outstanding examples of this was his ability to tame his own naturally aggressive personality to adopt a non-predatory approach to power (exemplified by the horse) that allowed him to outwit and out-endure a much larger, much better trained and funded British army. He also showed an unusually fluid ability to tap the unique talents of marginalized populations, respectfully collaborating with women, slaves, and Native Americans in ways that were often unheard of at the time.
- As an evolutionary leader, Washington’s emotional heroism was particularly significant. He was able to keep his sensitivity in tact on the battlefield, tempering great passion, power, ambition, and fierceness with personal restraint, adaptability, equanimity, and empathy. “Let your heart feel for the affliction and distress of everyone,” he advised.
- His courage went beyond facing physical death. He had the nerve to transcend long-established, highly limiting human behavior patterns. George Washington’s least-recognized and most impressive innovation hinged on his ability to re-integrate masculine and feminine, sedentary and nomadic, predatory and non-predatory, verbal and nonverbal forms of power and intelligence — drawing upon these long-standing opposites fluidly, as needed. A deeply spiritual man who felt a sense of divine calling, he nonetheless dodged the pitfalls of religious grandiosity. Not only did he refuse to be lauded as a saint, savior, prophet, or king, he avoided the much more common modern affliction of domineering self-righteousness, which blocks lucid inquiry and constant behavior modification. Heaven and earth, faith and logic, culture and nature, vision and practicality, fierceness and compassion were all on his side, helping him to win an impossible war through the balanced ecosystem of a fully functioning human psyche.
An Optimistic View
- The Power of the Herd argues that it may be impossible for democracy to reach its full potential until a large number of citizens develop many of the skills that Washington pioneered and exemplified. Yet some significant improvement has already occurred. Despite the incredible world violence currently broadcast on the news, the early history of our country alone shows that Western culture in particular has become significantly less brutal in the last 250 years.
- Researching human history from a cathedral-thinking point of view, there’s good reason to be optimistic about the future of our species and the planet at large — if we make a conscious effort to learn from the past and cultivate the skills necessary to reach an empowered interdependence stage of development. We already have the tools to dramatically reduce trauma, terror, hate, shame and blame, grossly destructive by-products of civilization’s dominance-submission stage of social development. And we can learn to work together as equal, authentic, empowered beings — not by treating this ambitious task as a vague, hit-or-miss, extra-credit project, but through a thoughtful, widespread educational movement to help humanity master the emotional and social intelligence, verbal and nonverbal communication, leadership, and visionary skills that will, finally, allow us to function effectively as free men and women.
- A significant finding featured in Part I concerns a revised look at evolutionary theory, showing that in nature mutual aid within and between species is more important than competition in insuring survival and continued innovation. The fittest to survive, thrive, and evolve are those that avoid competition and get along well with others.
- A history of the human-animal bond now suggests that the animals with whom we formed close partnerships gentled and domesticated us as much as we domesticated them. What’s more, the fields of animal-assisted therapy and equine-facilitated learning demonstrate that horses, dogs, and other companion animals are still upping the ante, empowering and training us in ways we are only now beginning to understand.
- On a planet so intimately mapped through satellite surveillance, the last frontier may very well be hidden in our own barns and backyards. Our peaceful nickering and tail-wagging friends have been waiting, for centuries, for us to realize they’re not just here to help us protect territory, trek through the wilderness, and master nature, they’re innately equipped to assist us in tapping those higher levels of awareness, compassion, and leadership essential to fulfilling our role as responsible stewards of the earth, its myriad cultures, and its vast array of sentient, uniquely gifted life forms.
- Horses, in particular, are poised to help us balance our predatory inclinations by exemplifying, and exercising, a more constructive, life-sustaining form of power.
What Got Us Here Won’t Get Us There
- In the bestselling leadership book What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, executive coach Marshall Goldsmith outlines twenty common yet troublesome habits that prevent successful people from becoming more successful. These career stifling pitfalls have nothing to do with intelligence, technical skill, wealth, talent, education, or courage. They have to do with attitudes, interpersonal communication difficulties, and personality quirks endemic to a grossly outdated, incredibly inefficient dominance-submission system. Quite simply, Goldsmith reveals, “The higher you go, the more your problems are behavioral.”
- In reading over the list, it’s clear that many of the behaviors in question are blatantly predatory, including the #1 challenge: winning too much, which according to the author, stems “from needlessly trying to be the alpha male (or female) in any situation.” The vast majority of the remaining nineteen habits are related to the first, which he describes as “the need to win at all costs and in all situations — when it matters, when it doesn’t, and when it’s beside the point.” Goldsmith emphasizes that our “obsession with winning rears its noisome head across the spectrum of human endeavor, not just among senior executives,” culminating in a desire to win “even when the issue is clearly to our disadvantage.” The amount of time, talent, and money wasted on this particularly insidious addiction is most obvious in our current political system, though it wreaks havoc in our churches, schools, humanitarian efforts, and family life whenever the need to “be right” is more important than being effective, let alone innovative, in solving the myriad challenges we face.
- Humanity is evolving psychologically and socially through a process known as “civilization,” and we’ve reached a collective impasse. What got us here won’t get us there. Like the Fortune 500 executives that Goldsmith coaches, we need to look at our behavior, and we need to embrace some new skills. We are an incredibly powerful, successful species — with the ability to bankrupt the entire planet. Luckily we have some avatars to call upon, historically-significant trailblazers who explored new territory through no small amount of blood, sweat, and tears. The book will discuss the non-predatory, visionary leadership abilities of several social innovators who went on to become major religious figures. But we also have at least one, thoroughly human innovator to consider. And he may very well be the best model to follow at this stage in our development.
- Yes, you guessed it; I’m talking about George Washington. Like the well-intentioned general fumbling around the American outback with a rag-tag group of ill-equipped troops, we need to reassess our concepts of power, develop fierce sensitivity, exercise emotional heroism, experience the frightening, confusing, thoroughly disorganized death of the old, and have faith that we are capable, simultaneously, of creating something new. Evolution and what Washington called “Divine Providence” appear to be on our side. An impenetrable glass ceiling on unchecked predatory behavior offers consistent historical evidence that some higher intelligence and/or process of natural selection is actively preventing us from moving forward until we can let go of our adolescent dominance fantasies and embrace a more mature form of social organization.
The Lion and the Horse
- Throughout history, we have met the ultimate enemy, over and over again, and he is the rabid carnivore in us. Working together — and only together — we can lure that dark beast out into the open and, not destroy it, but harness its incredible power, gentle it, and civilize it, once and for all.
- When we develop the complementary strengths of the lion and the horse, the proverbial “king of beasts” transforms from aggressor to protector, from the murderer of sensitivity to its champion, helping us access the courage to feel and the willingness to act. A human who embodies the wisdom of both lion and horse neither suppresses emotion nor becomes paralyzed by it. She uses her keen prey animal instincts to sense aggression underneath the toothy smile of a colleague, and employs her agile, non-predatory intelligence to evade trouble without engaging in a carnivorous battle to the death. She holds her ground without ordering everyone else around. She embodies true assertiveness, becoming neither tyrant nor victim. She develops focused, goal-oriented thinking alongside a responsive, heartfelt, process-oriented mind capable of nourishing relationship.
- Here’s the rub: We’re not just taming lions anymore. After five thousand years of conquest, genocide and slavery, the predatory side of the human psyche has become a force of mythic proportions, a fire-breathing, landscape-destroying, cold-hearted, flying reptile that lives for the hunt, goes for the jugular — and gets high from it. To make matters worse, this dangerous, mutant species can talk. It uses intelligence as a weapon. And it appears to have magical powers, namely a kind of verbal bait and switch tactic that’s little more than a perceptual parlor trick. Post-industrial dragons weave complex webs of pseudo-logic to mesmerize human prey, baiting them with promises of easy wealth, pretending to hold some innovative new secret to success that mere mortals can’t possibly understand, deftly hiding the fact that its get-rich-quick schemes are filled with nothing more than hot air. Part I uses the Enron scandal as an example of how unchecked predatory behavior and competition-oriented “survival of the fittest” evolutionary concepts can’t help but lead to financial, social, emotional and spiritual bankruptcy.
- Part II, “Horse Sense at Work,” explores practical skills for turning this dangerous situation around, outlining how businesses, communities, religious, educational and political organizations can enhance collective success and personal fulfillment by developing key emotional/social intelligence, leadership, visionary, and authentic community building skills.
- Bringing our predatory nature back into balance is the challenge of a lifetime for individuals, and a multi-generational project for humanity at large. Luckily, we have living breathing horses to help us reawaken the power of non-predatory wisdom, while demanding that we own our inner lion and put it to good use. While some of the lessons that horses teach can’t be translated into words — they have to be learned experientially — the book offers case studies and guidelines on how non-riding, equine-facilitated learning programs can be designed to methodically, and safely, teach valuable non-verbal assertiveness, relationship, emotional/social intelligence, mindfulness, personal empowerment, and collaboration skills to leaders of the future.
Copyright © 2011 by Linda Kohanov from the upcoming book The Power of the Herd: Building Social Intelligence, Visionary Leadership and Authentic Community through the Way of the Horse. All rights reserved. No portion of this overview may be reproduced without written permission from the author.
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