What is the difference between management and leadership? Horses teach us a great deal about leadership skills and there is an excellent book by Mark Rashid dedicated to the subject.
In any herd of horses there is always a leader. However, the style of leadership varies as much in horses as it does in humans. With horses there are two basic types of leader, one rule by dominance, and the other leads by example. Those that lead by example are referred to as ‘passive leaders’ and are chosen by other members of the herd who willingly follow them. The other type of leader, the one that rules by dominance, is referred to as an alpha. These horses use biting, kicking, posturing, threats, and driving out of the herd those who do not conform to their leadership.
Passive leaders are usually older horses somewhere in the middle of the herd's pecking order. They are quiet and consistent in their day-to-day behaviour and don't appear to have much ambition to move up the ‘alpha’ ladder. As a result, there appears to be no reason for them to use force to continually declare their position in the herd.
Alphas, on the other hand, are far from quiet and consistent in their behaviour. They are pushy and can make unprovoked attacks on other members of the herd. As a result of their unpredictable and unreasonable behaviour, the majority of the horses in a herd will try to avoid all contact with the alpha where possible.
The reason for this avoidance is that horses will use the least amount of energy possible throughout their normal daily activities. This is exactly the behaviour that has helped the horse to survive as a prey animal for over 50 million years. By not expanding energy unless it is definitely required, they are able to maintain a store in case of real emergency.
By following a passive leader who uses the least amount of energy throughout the day, horses are not only able to stay quiet and content and getting on with the job of being a horse, they are also insuring their own survival.
Passive leaders have proved themselves with the other horses in the herd by showing they can be dependable in their behaviour from day to day. Alphas on the other hand are so inconsistent that others are required to be on alert all the time they are around them.
Translated to the office, this is the person that comes in and slams the door in your face one day then the next day is asking you if you fancy going out to lunch.
Horses and people generally respond well to passive leadership, unless of course they are an alpha.