Headstart: Management : Benefits of horsing around

If you want to improve your relationship with your staff you could do worse than stand in a muddy field talking to a horse.

Manchester Business School has begun running courses on managerial techniques based on the ‘horse whispering’ technique made famous in print by the Californian cowboy Monty Roberts and in film by the now-wrinkled heartthrob, Robert Redford.

Using Kelly Marks, a former jockey who trained with Monty Roberts, Manchester Business School has been dragging groups of managers into a Staffordshire field to see how the technique can help in developing ‘trust-based leadership methods’ in the workplace.

‘Part of the planning is about how we build up our own barriers,’ says Tudor Rickards, professor of creativity and organisational change at Manchester.

Such has been the feedback that – providing foot and mouth disease precautions ease – Manchester aims to run more courses in the summer and spring.

About 30 people have so far taken part in the course including managers from Asda, communications company Alcatel and two politicians from Africa.

Also taking part have been companies from the manufacturing and small business sectors.

Rickards admits several managers have been willing to go into the same stable to try and coax the horse into trusting a complete stranger. Once they had overcome their fear, one of the biggest problems for the managers (and presumably the horse) was the cold. ‘They were bloody frozen by the end,’ says Rickards.

Managers spend up to two-and-a-half hours in the stable with the horse.

He said those on the course have tended to fall into three groups: those who embraced the idea wholeheartedly; those who were more sceptical; and a third group who ‘would go into denial and say “there’s nothing in this at all”.’

As well as building up trust, Rickards says the course will help managers to overcome anti-social behaviour, reinforce the importance of patience and improve non-verbal communication. But he warns the skills cannot be picked by reading the book or watching the film. ‘Some people read the Kama Sutra and think they are sexually skilled,’ he says.

Originally the course just studied the phenomenon of the horse whisperer and its implications for management techniques until someone at Manchester hit upon the idea of trying to replicate what happened in the book.

Manchester aims to run two more in the near future, in May and June.

Rickards says several companies have shown an interest.

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