March | Taking Up Space

“It was when I dared to take up space that I claimed my place.” ~Becca Lee

How tightly do you hold the reins?

I took an intentional and outwardly quiet start to the year and undertook a creative exploration into leadership. To be away with solitude while exploring new ideas I have found offers more magical possibilities. And as a lifelong learner with curiosity as a superpower — heading to my friend Kathy Taylor’s place to explore what it means to ‘take up our space’ and ‘lead’ with horses, I was certain it was going to be a great adventure. After all, Kathy is based on a 17-acre ranch with four incredible horses in Texas, the very proud Lone Star State!

When I previously thought about horseback riding it seemed very straightforward: get on the horse, pull the reins in the direction you want to go, ‘kick’ if you want to go faster, and pull back if you want to go slower. This mirrors the approach many leaders take to running a company or a team: set the target, course correct along the way with varying versions of what ‘kick’ to go faster or ‘pull the reins’ to go slower looks like. This was not what I found on the ranch.

Kathy, a certified coach and equine professional, having just completed her certification in Uzazu embodied intelligence, something I’d never heard of before, has been exploring what it means to take up our space. Not more than we need or less than we are but just the right amount of space. When I’m at my best, that feels like a Superwoman pose with a giant sparkly blue energy ball all around me, versus where I started as scrunched down and covered by a marshmallow bubble of comfort (if you’re rolling your eyes at this point, c’mon play with me a little, stay curious ).

That was the first step: feeling out what my leadership space takes up. The second is, from this place of being fully grounded and clear, to then engage with the horses and co-create a shared outcome.

Bentley is the most extroverted of the four horses. He’s what’s called a flea-bitten Grey — black skin underneath with predominantly white hair and red flecks overtop. He stands 16 hands tall or so, and was the first to welcome me to the ranch and show me what it’s like to give him the space he wants and co-create play. This gave me the comfort I needed as I’d not been near a horse since I was a kid and these are large, intimidating animals. The principle in practice was pressure to create connection — an invitation is pressure, proximity is pressure, and certainly touch or reins are the most pressure. How would I apply enough pressure that Bentley would be willing to engage? If he ignored me, increase the pressure; if he resisted, meet his level of pressure with a potential request, and with the idea that he would match my pressure with connection.

Gus was ultimately the one that taught me the most. In contrast to Bentley, Gus is a miniature horse — he stands 7 hands tall. My morning routine was to let Roxy out first, then Isaac — who comes into her stall to finish whatever she hasn’t eaten — then Bentley, who comes into Isaac’s stall to finish whatever he hasn’t eaten. Gus usually leaves through Roxy or Isaac’s stall, but this time, he walked right out the barn door onto the driveway — oh my!

Aaaaack! was the feeling that overcame me, so I begged forgiveness of Isaac and Bentley and asked for their patience as I ran after Gus who headed, thankfully, straight for the green grass of the nearby lawn. Now, on my own , I had to practice what Kathy had taught me. To take up my space and apply the right level of pressure to encourage Gus to move back to the barn and away from the delicious sweet grass — the challenge to do so without reins.

It was exhausting, I gave up quickly and called for help — my fearful imagination overtaking me at the idea of Gus scampering down the driveway onto the road, completely forgetting we were totally fenced in, forgetting my own breath and moving into action without remembering the way of co-creating space and action.

Kathy came out fast enough, watching me attempt to ‘move’ Gus back, and then went into teaching mode. “Where are you directing your energy?” “Do you feel your feet on the ground?” “Where is the energy coming from within you?” Reminding me of all the lessons, including the use of sound to engage, how to ‘drive’ and the game of pressure — when Gus ignores me, apply more pressure. When Gus receives me, reduce pressure. Once I remembered how to use pressure, sound, and take up my space, we managed to encourage Gus back into the barn and complete the chores of putting blankets on Bentley and Isaac for the cold night to come, putting away the food bowls, cleaning out the stalls, and turning off the lights.

It was a good reminder of how to get back to ground, breath back into my body — my brain says this should be simple, yet this little pressure, this little surprise and I’m back to forgetting everything . Good to forget, good to remember, and good to laugh with my practice.

This new way of co-creating action has created incredible momentum flow and intentional impact to achieve connection. An unexpected outcome for me was greater creativity, clarity of action, and ultimately connection. I picked up watercolour pencils (I hadn’t drawn in years), Leaders@Scale launched our Community platform in record time with 5 free offerings to start (send me a note if you want an invite), and I put into practice many new coaching modalities.

Journal Prompt

  • What might you co-create taking up the right amount of space and pressure? What is the right amount? How does it relate to your leadership?

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Today’s edition of the L@S Newsletter was written by Michal Berman. Mic is a certified coach, founder of L@S, and a former executive at companies like FreshBooks, FundThrough, and Mozilla Firefox.

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