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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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