A Letter from Eponaquest Founder Linda Kohanov
This year, I’m very excited to share a new tool/approach I developed based on research I stumbled upon while writing The Power of the Herd.
A bit of background: This summer I’ve been on the road presenting at a variety of conferences, and doing a new indoor workshop format for larger groups that has been very successful at expanding awareness of the Eponaquest Approach to leadership and personal development, increasing interest in this work beyond those who are already innately intrigued by horse-facilitated learning.
For instance, in August, I was invited to do a one-day indoor workshop in the heart of Chicago by The Bensman Group, a respected financial investment firm, co-sponsored by a major insurance firm. It was a real success, as expressed in a follow up email by Robert A. Bensman, CEO:
“A very warm and heartfelt thanks on behalf of all of our employees! Your material, delivery, and connection with our team has been deeply appreciated by everyone who attended, including our clients, and guests. Of particular interest is the information regarding the various styles of leadership, trusting one’s intuition, and (how to have a productive) ‘difficult conversation.’ Your material is supported by scientific, practical, and pragmatic data. One of our guests was a consulting psychologist who graduated from Northwestern University, and commented on the solid research backing your book. He was truly impressed with your presentation!”
Rob’s comments meant a lot to me. For quite some time, I’ve realized that to bring equine-inspired wisdom to a wider public, it’s essential to move beyond “preaching to the converted,” (people who already love horses, those who have read my books, and those who already are or want to be EFL/EFP facilitators). To do this I’ve found it very helpful to offer larger, more economical, indoor workshops for people who don’t yet have the time or funds to do an in-depth, equine-facilitated workshop. In the process, I’ve developed new ways of giving people horse-inspired tools that they can take back to the human world immediately.
My last workshop of this kind on the road this year is happening in New York City October 3 and 4. This one brings together the absolute latest skills for helping people to translate horse-inspired wisdom to human situations. I cannot emphasize strongly enough that even people who are skeptical of the horse work get excited about these new tools. And those who’ve attended equine-facilitated work in the past are finding these tools valuable for taking what they’ve learned at the barn back to the city. (This new model will also be an integral part of all the equine-facilitated workshops I will be doing when I return to Arizona.)
A Powerful New Model—Based on an Ancient Source of Wisdom
The success is based on a new leadership/team, family and community building model developed since The Power of the Herd came out that mainstream people are really responding to, a way of transforming the unconscious power plays groups of people engage in according to four “power styles” or roles that have certain strengths when used consciously/productively—and certain shadow sides when one or two of these roles are over-emphasized at the expense of the other roles. (This is very different from the Four Stone Age Power Tools that I talk about extensively in Chapter 12.)
The basis of this idea was introduced in the book in Chapter 8, but I have since expanded it significantly for practical use. People’s eyes light up; they sit forward and share lots of animated examples when I present this information. And they immediately begin to use the vocabulary to better understand conflicts at work between colleagues and problems they face with clients. It has also been very helpful to attorneys I work with as well as people who must deal with nonprofit boards and volunteers, including social activism groups, churches and other spiritual communities. And, as I recently found, therapists and parents are also finding this model useful in dealing with difficulties that arise in families.
The new four-point leadership model is based on ancient wisdom used by herding cultures. I would not have encountered this information, let alone developed it for modern human use, if I hadn’t been writing a book on herds/groups (rather than my previous emphasis on the “way of the horse”). Three of the four roles can be observed in horse herds, as they are nonpredatory forms of power. The fourth involves the appropriate use of predatory power that all humans must master in order to work in balance with the herd, the tribe, and nature itself.
This model, enhanced by visuals in a succinct yet evocative power point titled “The Path of the Master Herder: Evolving Leadership through Ancient Wisdom” is accessible, and often downright exciting to people when presented indoors. For horse-facilitated workshops, I’ve also developed corresponding outdoor horse activities to exercise the nonverbal elements of each role based on modifying some of the activities created during the four years of research and development I did to support the writing of The Power of the Herd. (Special thanks to Eponaquest Apprenticeship class #23 for helping me create this engaging power point last spring!)
The four-point leadership model evolved from ethnological studies I stumbled upon during my book research and then further developed for modern use after the book was published, insights into the sophisticated, balanced use of four roles that herders in traditional pastoral cultures must use effectively to move larger groups of animals through open country without fences. This becomes a metaphor, and now a set of skills, for how we can empower groups of people to cooperate and solve modern problems creatively as all the old “fences” of social control are now falling down. (Those old “fences,” tattered, filled with holes, barely held up by rotting boards and posts, still presume to operate in our culture through predatory dominance hierarchies, bullying, passive aggressive guilt-tripping techniques, objectification, grudge holding and other forms of retaliation, and both overt and covert shaming techniques.)
Yet when people begin to understand and use all four of the more sophisticated roles/power styles that master herders employ daily, a balanced form of conscious power and cooperation quickly emerges in groups of people who previously had trouble working together productively. These four roles are the dominant, the leader (and they are two, very different things!), the nurturer/companion (which wields tremendous power, though often covertly in dysfunctional human situations), and the predator. When used properly, the first three are nonpredatory forms of power. The last is used sparingly for very specific purposes, mostly to keep the herd and tribe in balance with available resources.
Most astonishing to many people are the benefits of the (nonpredatory) dominant role and the predator role when these two are separated from each other and used thoughtfully and sparingly in balance with the leader and nurturer/companion roles. Also enlightening to many people are the power plays nurturers instinctually engage in, and the truly toxic effects of the shadow side of the nurturer/companion role when it is overemphasized in human individuals.
I was stunned to realize that much strife, in modern businesses, communities and families, is caused by nurturers/companions whose power goes “underground” because they refuse to learn how to use the dominance, leadership, and predatory roles effectively—or in the case of many women, were actively prevented from learning how to use power by male-dominated cultures. Not only does the disempowered (or simply unconscious) nurturer/companion create toxic, passive aggressive power plays in groups, it supports the proliferation of violence.
Let me explain this surprising insight with a rather extreme example: It is a cold hard fact that many survivors of childhood sexual abuse blame the mother for not protecting them as much or more as they blame the father, uncle, etc. for abusing them. As Desmond Tutu said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” This is true in families, at work, and in society at large.
Yet people are notoriously uncomfortable with the subject of power. Some of my instructors and readers told me they did not understand why I was writing about the “masculine” subject of power in my new book, as if I was betraying somehow the content of my early, “more feminine” vision. The flip side is the fact that many naturally dominant corporate and political leaders already think they know everything there is to know about power, and simply don’t care to learn subtler, less violent, more effective techniques. But when interviewers and clients ask me to describe why I went from writing about “the way of the horse” to writing about power, I tell them this:
Significant social change is not going to occur until sensitive, caring people become empowered rather than overwhelmed. We need thoughtful, compassionate people to gain the tools to enter situations where suffering and conflict proliferate and show a different form of strength, one that holds people accountable without becoming shaming or abusive. Otherwise we will continue to see frustrated, disillusioned teenagers acting out violently, bullies stirring up fear to gain control, and sociopaths callously thriving at others’ expense.
Balanced, Compassionate Power in the Individual Supports Balanced, Compassionate Power in the Herd
The Eponaquest four-point power model first shows how individuals can develop power effectively. Yet that’s only half the story. Ultimately, this model shows how teams, families, and communities suddenly uplift in functionality as each of its members learns how to balance all four roles within him or herself.
For me, one of the most enlightening observations emerged when I realized that all our human systems (teams, families or communities) currently do not understand the necessity of balancing all four roles within each individual—as a result, they cannot help but become co-dependent by relying on different team or family members to perform the one role they’re most talented at (or socially-conditioned to perform through sexual stereotypes).
I myself made this “mistake” in encouraging consensual leadership before giving my instructors and staff the tools to develop all four power-styles in balance. Prior to 2013, of course, I didn’t know about the four roles, let alone how to balance them, so for many years, I felt there was a missing link in people’s ability to engage in modern consensual leadership that I simply couldn’t put my finger on. (I talk about this more in depth during my presentations, and it always brings wide-eyed gasps of recognition from all kinds of people who have experienced the same dilemma in trying to create authentic communities of free, empowered individuals.)
Some of the psychologists and organizational development specialists who attended these presentations this summer, including Barbara Rector of Adventures in Awareness (who co-founded the Equine Facilitated Mental Health Association in the mid-1990s), have told me they believe this new Eponaquest model is as important as Meyers-Briggs, if not more important in inspiring real social change at work, home and in society at large. Yet unlike the Meyers-Briggs test, we’re not dealing with personality types, we’re dealing with power styles/roles that can and should be balanced in each individual. The Eponaquest model also moves beyond dualistic, male versus female leadership styles to create mature teams of high-functioning, fully empowered yet compassionate individuals.
It has been a real revelation for me to understand this for my own evolving business, as well as in consulting with other businesses, families and community groups. It explains some of the dysfunctions I’ve grappled with in groups I’ve worked with in the past, including some previously confusing difficulties between Eponaquest Instructors, apprentices, and fellow staff. It makes previously incomprehensible aspects of human behavior in groups suddenly seem clear as day and much more easily solvable as a result. Furthermore, it drastically reduces the potential for shaming, rejecting, or embarrassing someone who needs to correct unproductive behavior: When we discuss a role that has been overemphasized in a team or family member, that person does not need to see this as an affront to who he is, but an impersonal quality that has moved out of balance.
Embraced by Therapists
As it turns out, this new four-point model is not just for leadership, coaching, or business audiences. It has serious ramifications for therapists working with families.
Labor Day weekend, for instance, I did an equine-facilitated workshop for Dr. Rebecca Bailey and her staff in Northern CA. She is the author of Safe Kids, Smart Parents and a frequent expert/commentator on abduction cases like the recent rescue of three women in Cleveland and other violent incidents that CNN, Good Morning America, Katie Couric, etc. call her to comment on, on-air. (Dr. Bailey developed this area of expertise and notoriety through being Jaycee Dugard’s counselor, the young California woman who was kidnapped for 18 years. Horse-facilitated therapy turned out to be a factor in Jaycee’s healing.)
Rebecca Bailey is an experienced horsewoman who has been using horse-facilitated work with families in crisis. After reading The Power of the Herd, she contacted me because she wanted to add a nonpredatory approach to power and some more subtle horse-facilitated activities for her clients, many of who have been victimized by true human predators. Rebecca said that she feels that some of the horse-facilitated activities other facilitator training programs use strike her as having an unconscious predatory orientation, and she was looking for alternatives.
In addition to demonstrating some non-predatory horse-facilitated activities, I shared the new four-point leadership model with her because she was interested in how it might relate to families in crisis. Rebecca got really excited about these four power styles/roles and their shadow sides, saying that this model would be helpful to her in dealing with high conflict divorce cases and family re-unification intensives, that it was not just relevant to businesses, but to empowering all people to handle difficulties that other theories on group behavior just don’t address.
She wrote a wonderful endorsement for this new model (which you can read on the flyer for the NYC workshop), and we are currently planning to collaborate on some workshops and special events. (An in-depth workshop we are doing for therapists next spring will be posted on the website in early November.)
In the meantime, the New York City workshop is a great opportunity for East Coast residents to access this new tool immediately. We’ve also had some people from Europe and Eastern Canada register for this event, but there are still spaces available. For a color flyer on this event, contact Sue Smades at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also see a description on the Eponaquest website at http://eponaquest.com/workshop-details/?event=758.
Hope to see some of you there October 3 and 4, and I’m looking forward to a new season of equine-facilitated workshops when I return to Arizona on October 6.