Wood works with Star at his ranch near Waynesboro, where U.Va.'s
"Horse Sense" workshops are held.
can learn a lot from a cowboy
will depend upon one another. From the beginning, I try to be
clear what I want from him. I also try to identify what he needs
from me. When I work with him, I don't want to break his spirit.
I want to build something he can sustain for life."
are the kinds of things Louis Wood tells U.Va. participants in
a management workshop he co-teaches with John Lord, director of
and Training. Wood is not your typical instructor, however
-- he is a cowboy. He's not talking about people, he's talking
Lord describes the idea behind this innovative workshop, he says,
"Whether they're called Śhorse whisperers,' 'gentlers' or
'communicators,' modern-day horse handlers share common principles
and utilize similar methods in dealing with horses that truly
effective managers and supervisors use with people."
with his own horse led Lord to seek out a trainer several years
ago. He noticed that the way trainers worked with horses paralleled
some of the management and leadership techniques he'd been teaching
for 20 years, but there was something different.
first offered the 11Ž2-day program with Wood, who owns a ranch
near Waynesboro, almost two years ago as a kind of experiment
to see if his intuition hit the mark with others. The workshop
has steadily become more popular, and has already been held about
10 times. Four sessions will be offered this spring, and the April
dates are already filling up.
Sense for Managers and Supervisors
April 11 and 12; April 25 and 26; May 31 and June 1; June
18 and 19
(includes all materials, as well as lunches and refreshments)
odt-training @virginia.edu or call 924-7140
workshop is targeted to managers and others who have a supervisory
role, and is specifically geared toward leadership development.
A similar one has been offered for all employees, focusing on
interpersonal skills, and will be scheduled again in the near
future. It's also possible to request a one-day staff retreat,
customized to a department's needs.
always looking for better methods," Lord said. Watching Wood
with a horse, "I saw things more clearly, or deeply,"
can see these [basic leadership principles] in a more tangible
way without the baggage we attach to people," Lord explained.
Lord talked to Wood about creating the workshop, he told him,
"I don't want you to do anything different from what you usually
do." What he tells the workshop participants is that they're essentially
eavesdropping on a day in Wood's life. "Louis is the heart and
soul of this. I just get the participants ready," Lord said. After
spending a morning and afternoon at the ranch observing and paying
attention to what goes on between Wood and one of the horses,
the attendees go back to a classroom. Here's the question that
provides a springboard for discussion: "Is there something about
the way this cowboy starts this horse that can provide us insight
into the effectiveness of our relationships with others, especially
those whom we supervise?"
person can take away something a little different, so everyone
gets the benefit of hearing others in the group say what was meaningful,"
Lord said. "These are not new things in leadership. They're the
same basic principles, but we'll give the horse freedom and the
benefit of the doubt in a different way than we do people."
Tammy Miller, who supervises parking booth attendants and support
staff at Parking & Transportation, found that although people
noticed different things in her workshop group, their responses
all came down to the same idea: building confidence and trust.
That takes patience and clear communication. The way the horse
responded to Wood's techniques made her think about how she might
be perceived by others -- not just by what she said, but how she
said it, and what kind of body language she used. Wood demonstrated
how "for every action, there is a reaction" in terms of a relationship,
Miller said. If your employee doesn't understand you or what you
want him or her to do, that can lead to doubt and make it difficult
for him or her to trust you, she said.
who owns horses herself, got the added benefit of learning how
to work with her horses better, and actually took one to Wood
later. "I didn't realize the way I was patting him, he was interpreting
as I didn't like him."
Lynn Woodson, coordinator of communications for Health System
Development, watching Wood transform a "problem" horse into a
cooperative helper was astonishing.
his part, Cody [the horse] didn't seem much inspired to change
his ways. While Louis talked to us, Cody restlessly pawed the
ground and snorted loudly from the back of the pen," Woodson said.
"I'm thinking, you wouldn't catch me dead in a pen with that horse,
and I would really hate to see this nice, soft-spoken cowboy trampled
to death in front of all these clueless office types."
a matter of hours, Wood was able to ride "this reformed outlaw
of a horse around the pen. Cody looked calm, natural. All of us
cowpokes had our mouths hanging open," she said.
Wood told the workshop participants, "I trust this horse with
my life," they were convinced. "All of us knew intuitively that
this is the highest achievement any manager can hope for. Here
was an image that could carry us through long days of paperwork
and years of performance plans," Woodson said.
Allen, a chemistry professor and the director of Environmental
Health and Safety, had a particular issue in mind when he attended
the workshop. He and his staff were faced with persuading faculty
and graduate students -- not under their supervision -- to comply
with federal regulations, or else the University could get slapped
with heavy fines. The staff was also dealing with federal regulators
checking to see that hazardous wastes were disposed of properly.
who says he knew nothing about horses, saw a comparison in Wood
working with a horse. "How do you get this big animal -- who really
could do whatever it wanted -- to do what you want?" He thought
the workshop was so beneficial, he arranged for his staff of 32
people to have a special retreat, and that was received enthusiastically.
For some, it reaffirmed what they'd been doing; others saw that
they could work differently.
saw that it is worth taking the time to make sure the researchers
and employees working with hazardous materials understand what
the procedures are and why they need to be followed. That way,
they follow the rules because they know it's the right thing to
do, not just because it's required, Allen said. The regulators
were convinced that U.Va. was taking care of the problem.
Wood's methods is establishing trust and respect -- understanding
what it is that another needs from you and letting the other know
what you need. If you're riding a horse, you don't want the horse
to go galloping off or to throw you. You want that 1,000-pound
creature to "exercise good judgment and make good decisions" while
you're on its back, Lord said. It's the same with people.