I heard a whisper on the wind

I heard a whisper on the wind once that weekends are supposed to be for rest and relaxation... this was not the case for me this weekend! After working hard all week, feeling mentally exhausted and somewhat physically done, I was up in Brookside Farm, where Natural Leaders is based. If I was hoping for a peaceful trip, all my dreams were dashed when my daughter Hannah, who runs Brookside, turns to me and says “We need to find Hilda”.

Now, we don’t make a habit of naming our sheep, but when one sheep can cause this much trouble, they deserve a moniker. Hilda is a Herdwick sheep and has two little lambs, which she is not setting a good example for. The thing you should know about Herdwick’s, other than the fact the Beatrix Potter made them famous in these parts, is that they jump, climb and never stay in the same field... well not for long anyway.

So, picture this, Saturday morning and we jump on a quad bike, racing up the hill. Hannah’s driving, immediately I’m out of my comfort zone, I love being the one in control! Up and across the fields we go, when we take sight of Hilda and her lambs in the next field, with a large wall between us. Time to go on foot. What I must tell you is we also have Hannah’s best working friend Fraser. What a border collie Fraser is, talk about girls’ best friend!

Frazer is 3 years old, very dedicated and a sensitive soul. He is very much in middle management.

Hilda and her lambs have obviously decided that their best strategy for escape is in strength in numbers and she’s decided to try and camouflage herself with 15 sheep belonging to our neighbour farm. But there is no fooling us, and off we go down the hill towards them.

Hannah is much like me and reminds me of myself a few (ok 22...) years ago; full of energy and emotions, with those emotions out front and centre for better or for worse. So what follows in the next 30 minutes was like the most incredible out-of-body leadership experience, and it definitely helped me learn a thing or two. We leap into action, approaching the sheep and starting to move them down towards a blocked end of the field, 20 foot wide and walled on three sides, a “natural trap”. We have to work with Fraser to hold the sheep and push them into a tight corner and then make a grab for Hilda. Sounds simple eh!

Round one: we get them down and Hannah says “stay here with Fraser and block them off”. Ok I can do that, easy. Hannah moves in to the middle of the flock and Fraser gives me a look as if to say “you aren’t the boss of me” and off he rockets. Ah, maybe not so easy after all. Off he goes, sheep scatter, and I start running left and right to try and block them off. I see my window of opportunity when Hilda darts past, I make a dive reminiscent of my rugby days, and manage to get two hands onto her. Unluckily for me (but lucky for Hilda) it has been raining, and she is wet and slick and very slippy. Off she shoots again, back up the hill with the other sheep, whilst I am laying flat on the floor with only two handfuls of gray wool as my trophy for that magnificent dive. Hannah is now shouting at Fraser to get back behind the sheep and then shouting at me to get up and get back for to the open field to gather again and push the sheep into the natural trap.

Round two: and again we try to hold them, Hannah bringing Fraser on slowly and carefully, each time getting more frustrated, and Fraser getting more confused. Now if this was me in the leadership position, I would be doing just the same , arms flying and voice getting exasperated and people around me not sure if it was them, me or if the world was ending…

Instead I found myself looking in, and really enjoying the learning experience, learning first how to catch sheep, second that I could help Hannah stay more calm and able to direct Fraser, so enhancing her ability to lead. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, that I can no longer rugby tackle and just jump up again (as I learned by 2 pm when my back was as stiff as a board. I dare say it took me to Wednesday the next week to recover). A stiff back wasn’t the only thing to come out of the experience though, it taught me some valuable lessons when it came to my own leadership and team skills.

Being put in that different learning experience made me better able to realise different outcomes.

Helping Hannah stay calm and more focused on the task was vital, and shows how important it is to work in a team and not to go it alone. We may have run 6 or 7 times into the corner in order to get all the sheep together, but each time we did it strengthened the way we worked as a team. I learned how to target, to grab and walk a sheep from field to field. By gum, sheep are very strong and very intelligent, much more intelligent as I ever imagined, I could have sworn Hilda was taunting me. Often, we can underestimate the people we work with, or maybe our customers or patients, just as I underestimated the sheep. It reminded me that I am not always the expert, and that it is important to listen to those who know more, as there is always something to learn. Finally I learned that when I stay relaxed and focused, I really really enjoy the experience. By taking a step back, and letting myself be led rather than doing the leading, I noticed so much more of what was around me, how much control Hannah has with Fraser, and that at its best leading is voluntary and cooperative and that they play to both of their own strengths.

I was privileged on Saturday morning to work along side such talent, and I was grateful that I had chance to support them and be part of their world. I could share in their focus and control, and it taught me that using our emotions to control and not allowing them to distract us from the outcome we want is key. I learned to influence the things we can and let the rest take care of itself.

If you’re interested in this type of learning experience, our doors are open from March 2015! Come meet and work with Hannah and Fraser, Derek and Merk or Mandy and Jarah. I promise you won’t regret it, in fact it may just change your life…

There is so much to learn from nature, after all it does have 1000’s of years of natural leadership experience.


Stuart Jackson