Training French Executives To Be Corporate ‘Horse Whisperers’

In France, a growing number of corporate coaches are taking unconventional approaches to introduce basic management skills. Some teach executives to work with horses. Others in the largely unregulated industry organize their trainings around cooking, musi

Are horses the key to good management skills?
Are horses the key to good management skills?
Laurance N'Kaoua

RENNES Picture the scene: five people are gathered with five horses in a windswept corn field in Brittany, France. Two of the people are coaches, employees of a French agency that specializes in management training. The company, Aynooa, also owns the horses. The other three people are business executives.

One of the coaches asks Bruno Bellini, the human resources manager of a transport company, to walk out into a clearing with a mare called Lena. Bellini encourages her to walk, trot and stop – but without saying a word or even touching the animal. He doesn't have to, explains Anne Sartori, one of Aynooa's cofounders. The horse's behavior is instead dictated by the man's self-confidence, his look, his breath and his conviction.

"Horses simply adjust to our non-verbal communication. They are mirrors of our own behaviors and react to what we're feeling," says Sartori, a former sales manager. "The interaction is not about words, analysis or logic."

According to Sartori, there's a lesson to be learned here that is very applicable in the business world. Executives, she says, "must understand how they can create a dynamic other than by using words."

"In a company setting we tend to focus only on verbal communication," she adds. "But feelings are just as important. They are contagious. And if they're ignored, they can cause problems."

Since its creation two years ago, Aynooa has worked closely with troubled executives: managers who lack leadership skills, who are having cohesion problems within their teams, or who suffer from time management issues. Sartori's business partner, Jean-Loup Péguin, thinks that "leadership and good management skills a very much the result of good behavior."

Péguin, himself a former CEO, says horses help reveal and develop a person's emotional intelligence. "The ability to perceive and express emotions, to incorporate them into the thinking process and to control them – in both oneself and in one's employees – is an essential quality," he says.

Options abound

Aynooa's horses are part of a trend in unusual approaches to management training. Increasingly popular, the effectiveness of such unconventional coaching is nevertheless hard to measure – especially since the range of off-the-wall options is so wide. Wolves, winetasting, jazz and cooking have all been tried as a way to teach executives skills applicable to the business world.

Julien Rossello founded a company called Eat-Sentive, which provides corporate managers with culinary instruction. "Cooking is like a company," he explains. "It has its own codes, standards and it requires team work." Another corporate trainer, Jean-Pierre Blanc, coaches his clients with music, which requires "listening, respect and will."

"We can't really say at this point how well these innovative methods work," says Bruno Bellini. "But the traditional management trainings, where you learn how to ‘say no," ‘set goals," and ‘lead a job interview," are clearly limited. Customer satisfaction surveys showed that conventional coaching courses did not provoke long-term changes because they denied the importance of emotions."

No more bungee jumping

Pascal Domont, president of a group called the French Coaching Society, agrees that focusing on emotions can be beneficial. "The era when executives went bungee jumping is over," he says. "The trend now is to complement coaching with work on personal development. That way they encourage people to look for solutions within…even if it means using horses."

Prices for horse training and other alternative coaching courses vary – from 4,500 to 12,000 euros. Most courses last about 20 hours. Overall, corporate coaching is an estimated 150 million-euro business in France, according to Domont. It is also largely unregulated: only 500 out of country's estimated 2,000 corporate coaches are accredited by a professional federation

Read the original article in French

Photo - Wolfgang Staudt

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Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3


LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.

Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

If nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

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