Look to the Herd, Part 1: I’ve Got Your Back

  • a herd of horses
    April 6, 2020

    In his book, Leaders Eat Last, Simon Sinek introduced the Circle of Safety, a concept based on creating a culture of trust, acceptance, and collaboration within an organization. In a Circle of Safety, individuals feel a sense of belonging that helps them put aside their own self-interests to work successfully together in support of organizational goals. As described by Sinek, “The more we trust that the people to the left of us and the people to the right of us have our backs, the better equipped we are to face the constant threats from the outside together.”

    Horses have always practiced the Circle of Safety. They have survived for the last 44-55 million years because of the “I’ve got your back” herd philosophy, providing humans with an excellent example of leadership and successful teamwork. In this threatening time of the coronavirus pandemic, horses also provide us with a model of how we should work together to protect each other.

    Horses are prey animals, meaning that they are hunted by predators such as lions, tigers, bears, and coyotes. To protect each other, they stick together, naturally forming hierarchies of leaders and followers within the herd. Leaders and followers work together to detect outside threats and flee from danger. When they are not in flight, they are constantly on the look-out for each other:

    • When grazing in a pasture, they group together and swish their tails to create a wind machine to blow away flies;
    • When some members of the herd lie down to sleep, others stand in a sentinel position to detect threats; and
    • When amid a storm, horses seek high and dry ground and huddle together with butts to the wind and rain to protect each other.

    horses in a stormHorses act in the best interest of the herd instead of the interest of individual members. Horses are all about trust and protection of the herd.

    We are currently experiencing an unprecedented storm against humanity from the invisible and highly dangerous coronavirus. Like horses, we need to collectively put our butts to the wind and rain against the coronavirus storm. We cannot physically group together as a herd does in a pasture. But we can, from a distance, practice the horse herd philosophy to protect the human herd.

    We are collectively swishing our tails to stop the spread of the coronavirus when we stay home. Health care workers recently displayed signs saying “We go to work for you. Please stay home for us.” Staying home is the single, most important thing we can all do now to protect each other and to ease the load for our brave first responders.

    When we do find the need to leave the house, we are standing like sentinels to protect the herd when we practice social distancing, when we wear face coverings, and when we wash our hands.

    We are saying “I’ve got your back” when we run errands for the most vulnerable of the human herd, when we make or donate personal protective equipment to health care workers, and when we show our appreciation for the doctors, nurses, janitors, grocery store workers, delivery drivers, and many others who are risking their own health to keep our communities running.

    We are creating a Circle of Safety when we make frequent facetime calls to stay connected with family and friends, and when we use social media to lift the spirits of others or to hold virtual, social get-togethers for our emotional well-being in this difficult time.

    As we wait for the development of a vaccine, the coronavirus pandemic will be a long, difficult storm. But we can all do our part to flatten the curve if we follow the wisdom of the herd – and the advice of our scientific and medical experts. Greener pastures are ahead if we all, from a distance, work together for the benefit of the  human herd.

    Stay tuned for our next blog, Look to the Herd – Part 2: Shared Leadership.

    Susan and Joseph Urban

    Dashing W Farm

    (Based on a presentation by Susan and Joseph Urban entitled Workplace Dynamics on the Age of Social Media: What We Can Learn from a Herd of Horses).


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