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Share your wisdom: "Everything I know about management, I learned from training horses"

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    Share your wisdom: "Everything I know about management, I learned from training horses"

    I left academia and joined a soft-money research group 3 years ago. In the last year, I've gone from managing ~2 programs at a time with ~4 people performing, and doing a significant amount of technical work myself, to managing...much more than that.

    I can tell a *lot* of the EQ/soft skills I have that have been hugely beneficial in my career transition come from training horses. I'd love to hear others' similar experiences in this vein, and if you have any advice on how to *scale* those skills up to bigger teams, I could use it!

    #2
    If you have "n" horses in a field, put out "n+1" piles of hay. As n gets larger, put out "n+2" piles of hay.

    No amount of training will change the essential character of the horse (or person).

    I was one of the people in charge of moving the contents (human and other) of a red-tagged science building to temporary bungalows after the Northridge earthquake. The, I was again one of the people in charge of the more organized and methodical move from the temporary bungalows (Science Village--yes, think Village People) into a new science building that I helped design and order equipment for. I used the skill set acquired managing horse shows--keeping people organized without annoying them (like running a volunteer organization), encouraging them to pack up their stuff (like getting a kid into the ring), a lot of paperwork (show office), etc. The equestrian skills came directly into play the afternoon I was sent out with a group of people from facilities, the college president, and my counterpart from the other involved science department. The task was to determine how to set up storage containers (like the ones on container ships) on the pool deck. The president waved in the general area he thought stuff might go and asked facilities to measure to see if it would work. Crickets. No one had a tape measure. I gingerly raised my hand and noted that I could walk a three-foot step. He told me to start walking. I gained a lot of respect from facilities that day, especially once they'd checked my work with tape measures and noted that I was dead on. The construction consultant pulled me aside and asked how I knew how to do that. I started to explain, he stopped me, and said he'd figured as much since his daughter was in Pony Club. After that I got pretty much what I wanted from that consultant. After that my ability to walk distances was respected enough that we laid out the bungalows for the Science Village off my step. Nothing was measured with a tape. One of the highlights of my career. There's a photo someplace in the college archives. I was wearing cow socks that day.
    The Evil Chem Prof

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      #3
      Anger doesn't belong in the same room as discipline.
      COTH's official mini-donk enabler

      "I am all for reaching out, but in some situations it needs to be done with a rolled up news paper." Alagirl

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        #4
        Trust my instincts when I'm reading body language - and name what I'm reading, with no emotion. Naming stuff without emotion is very powerful. To be able to read body language and name what isn't being said means people listen to me - until they don't because I am speaking the truth!!

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          #5
          I had my first horse as a teen and into college. Owning a horse and all the skills that went along with it, helped me when I joined the military. It also helped me afterwards when I went back to college for additional education. It's helped me in every job I've ever had. Combined with military skills, I can be a bit too direct and take charge, but, it is effective.

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            #6
            Always seek new tools for the tool box :-) And you can't fix everything with duct tape.

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              #7
              Positive conditioning.

              If you want good behaviour, celebrate it. Tell people when they are doing things right. Praise them. Highlight their achievements. Find something to celebrate in everyone each week if not day.

              Much more effective to praise and focus on the good than try to eradicate the negative. If someone is trying to improve, reward each attempt in the correct direction. Nudge theory works with horses, dogs and workmates.

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                #8
                For ten years I oversaw an engineering team, it was all round pen training it was run them around and around until they decided to look for direction

                As an outside salesman, it was easy for me to met or exceed the goals by watching the owners/buyers companies as to what pet was their favorite... sent the pet (dog/cat whatever it was) goody bags of treats and toys.... owner/buyer sent me purchase orders

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                  #9
                  Daily, subtle reinforcement of the behavior you want. I've been very successful in my career getting certain factions "on board" with ideas they were previously resistant to. I joke that I can just be positioned in the right cubicle and will wear anyone down over time. And much like horses, building the trust goes a long way towards getting people to sign on to what you want to get done.

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                    #10
                    The word "management" comes from the ability to ride a horse in the manage. Transferable skills.
                    "Good young horses are bred, but good advanced horses are trained" Sam Griffiths

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                      #11
                      Although my experience was mostly military, (I gave a short answer above) I think a few universal concepts exist with managing both horses and people:

                      Separate the troublemakers.
                      Don't tolerate harassment.
                      Make sure everyone gets time to eat so they aren't cranky.
                      Proper footwear.
                      Treat injuries promptly.
                      During training, make sure they know what to expect and end on a good note.
                      Let them know they are appreciated.
                      Work as hard as they do.

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                        #12
                        Originally posted by Kemosabe View Post
                        Always seek new tools for the tool box :-) And you can't fix everything with duct tape.
                        Maybe not duct tape, but baling wire sure holds the world together.

                        Horses keep us humble, egos wasted on them.

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                          #13
                          Be clear and direct about what you want and expect.

                          Make it clear that mistakes are okay, as long as they are learning from those mistakes and trying to do better.

                          Make it clear that you understand that everyone has a bad day occasionally.

                          Make it clear that you appreciate their efforts. Every day.

                          Make it clear that you know you're asking for too much, why you're asking for too much, and which are the critical things to get done. And don't ask for too much except for rare occasions.

                          When your boss criticizes your team take responsibility for their performance.

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                            #14
                            Set them up for success. Open the door. Make the right answer the easy answer.

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                              #15
                              If you rely on fear and focus on exerting authority through punishment, you can gain rote obedience that may look effective and well-controlled. But that horse (or person!) will never offer up brilliance or go the extra mile for you. But if you build followship through trust, clear and consistent rules, and setting them up to succeed through training and clear communicastion, they will often offer more that what was asked of them, and even save your bacon when you yourself screw up.

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                                #16
                                As a leader, there is never a place for an emotional response to a problem.

                                If your team members are having emotional responses, there is a problem. There’s a good chance you are somehow causing or exacerbating the problem, so start by taking a look at yourself. But don’t take it personally; problems are going to happen in every situation. As a leader, your job is to help navigate your team through them.

                                With that said, creating “joy” in the environment goes a long way. Everyone likes genuine appreciation, the occasional treat, and other things that make them feel good.
                                Don't fall for a girl who fell for a horse just to be number two in her world... ~EFO

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                                  #17
                                  I learned a lot as a teacher from horses. Like teaching step by step what you expect, clear boundaries and when boundaries and expectations are clear there is a lot more confidence. Make the right thing easy to do. Positive reinforcement not overpraising and vague rewards. Self confidence comes from proficiency, not praise, as in the pleasure of mastery is significant. Develop a practice that develops pride when teaching difficult tasks, not frustration. Break it down into steps. Don't move on untill a good foundation is developed for success. Quick, emotionless consiquences that make sense. The buddy system is usually the easiest. Don't let bad behavior go, the little things make a difference. Reward with meaningful and targeted praise. Don't infantilize or make excuses for poor performance, but go back a few steps without dismay.

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                                    #18
                                    Originally posted by Mouse&Bay View Post
                                    Positive conditioning.

                                    If you want good behaviour, celebrate it. Tell people when they are doing things right. Praise them. Highlight their achievements. Find something to celebrate in everyone each week if not day.

                                    Much more effective to praise and focus on the good than try to eradicate the negative. If someone is trying to improve, reward each attempt in the correct direction. Nudge theory works with horses, dogs and workmates.
                                    I don't manage people any more (thank Dog) but i can attest this technique also works great on husbands. <3

                                    "I once heard a client ask our vet if a horse's brain was as small as everyone says they are. Without pause, the vet smiled and answered: 'Maybe, but have you seen their hearts?'" --Alice Peirce

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                                      Original Poster

                                      #19
                                      Struggling with it this week, guys.

                                      Accommodated person A (subcontractor) for months under assurances their deliverable could be made to meet our needs. Decisions were made based on this and prior/ongoing good working relationship. Adjustments are now required and the story at this point is that it's our problem not theirs - so the uncharitable view of what happened is that I was taken advantage of, they dumped us with something they knew wouldn't work because they didn't have personnel resources to do what we actually needed from the beginning, and the plan was to check a box that the deliverable was received on schedule and otherwise run out the clock with us (me) holding the bag.

                                      Person B (on my team) is now gloating that they were right it would never meet performance requirements. I'm not convinced about whether it could or couldn't (since this happens any time there is a bug, whether it is related to B's original concern or not), but that's irrelevant now because the bottom line is it's not even meeting basic needs. (Person B's approach would also likely not provide the flexibility desired for the program goals.)

                                      I have no problem taking responsibility for my choices in this, but I'm caught in the middle of multiple sub/prime contracts (both directions) with person A's org/group and don't want to torch all of those contracts by going nuclear on this one. My boss is ready to do that though. The reality about person A's situation is that he actually needs more personnel support from his management than he has been getting for months, is in a position of managing too many people and projects he's probably not ready for, and I probably should have gone to his boss sooner about that rather than trying to just accommodate him on our joint projects.

                                      Unfortunately also, while person B does some things very well, person B has also made serious mistakes on my programs in the past, not been able to own up to them, and refused to fix them. At the start of this project, Person A had not done that to me, and had been consistently professional, did good work, provided required support, etc. So if my boss asks why I trusted Person A instead of Person B at the beginning of the program, that is why. There were other design considerations that made these choices reasonable as well.

                                      Lessons learned: go up the chain earlier, don't expend so much personal capital on teammates outside of my organization, be a bit more selfish about prioritizing the work I personally want to be doing on these projects.

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                                        #20
                                        If what you've been doing is not working, try something else.

                                        Don't assume anyone can read your mind, be clear and consistent.

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