I belong to a Fabulous Women’s Group where successful business women who are at the top of their game meet every quarter to provide peer group mentoring for each other. One of the group usually runs a morning session for the others on our specialist skill then the afternoon is devoted to resolving issues raised giving us more perspectives than just our own when creating solutions. I adore this group, the woman are so inspirational and are exceptional role models of excellence in their chosen fields. So imagine my excitement as I travelled up to Pitsford, just North of Northampton to learn how to do horse whispering with the master (or in this instance mistress) of horse whisperers – the charismatic and utterly authentic Lisa Brice. Watching Lisa with her beloved horses was in of itself a magical experience – it was as if there was an invisible thread connecting Lisa and her horse so that an unseen puppeteer was orchestrating the synchronicity of fluid movements between animal and human.
All of my life I have avoided horses in the belief that they are frightening and give me an extreme allergic reaction. Consequently I was thoroughly armed with an Epipen, Ventolin inhaler and a sackful of tissues (not very ‘Louise Hay’). Yet I found myself mesmerised by the intuitive horses in front of me. It was as if they could see into my soul and were listening intently to the beating of my heart. For two hours I learned how to understand and connect with these beautiful majestic animals and recognised that any changes in my energy were instantly picked up by the horses who gave me feedback in their own decisive way. Watching my fellow Fabulous Women connect with their horses I saw their charisma expand and engage the horses so that collectively it felt as if we were one entity in constant contact with the rhythm of the earth and nature. After a sumptuous lunch in Lisa’s farmhouse kitchen we sat outside in the paddock with the horses. Amanda Waring used her shamanic wisdom to drum an uplifting melody to our emotional hearts as we connected with the full beauty of this tranquil afternoon. In this moment all of us experienced a profound peace that left us feeling simultaneously vulnerable and strong. In this moment I would be prepared to do anything for any one of these women whose hearts seemed intrinsically linked with my own. So this is what engagement feels like. So this is the power of collaboration in its purest form.
In our western culture, many of the leaders that I have worked with feel uncomfortable when they see that part of my charisma definition mentions – heart – . Many organisations already have strong and robust processes in place to build employee engagement. Leadership teams are generally good at winning the – minds – of their people. Engagement and motivation are emotional responses, an unconscious as well as conscious desire to work with heart and soul for the benefit of their leader and their organisation. When leaders cannot communicate with their heart, and find difficult to express their emotional side, they generally struggle to build engagement, and often encounter even more resistance to changed ways of working. Heartfelt communication triggers serotonin and oxytocin – chemicals that naturally increase empathy, feeling good and trust.
There is a scientific explanation that explains why some leaders can evoke a strong positive emotional response and attract massive followship. The vagus nerve is a bundle of nerves that originates in the top of the spinal cord. It activates different organs throughout the body (such as the heart, lungs, liver and digestive organs). When active, it is likely to produce that feeling of warm expansion in the chest—for example, when we are moved by someone’s goodness or when we appreciate a beautiful piece of music. Neuroscientist Stephen W. Porges of the University of Illinois at Chicago refers to the vagus nerve as the nerve of compassion. This is because it stimulates certain muscles in the vocal chamber, enabling communication and it reduces the heart rate to promote a feeling of calm. Studies suggest that there is a connection with oxytocin, a neurotransmitter involved in trust and empathy. Consequently, the vagus nerve is associated with feelings of caretaking and the ethical intuition that humans from different social groups (even adversarial ones) share a common humanity. People who have high vagus nerve activation in a resting state, are more likely to be altruistic, compassionate, feel gratitude, love and happiness. Genuine charisma boosts the vagus nerve activators and draw people towards them without effort in an almost unconscious manner.
Horses have a sixth sense for people who have learned how to activate their vagus nerve. You can’t pretend to be calm with a horse, you can’t pretend to be confident – these magnificent creatures reflect back to you, that emotion you are feeling deep down – the one you may have worked hard to suppress. So to invest a day learning from horses is day where you automatically learn how to boost your own natural charisma. As for my own limiting beliefs around allergies and fear of horses – I now recognise that they are simply delusional thoughts that are not real. What’s real is the feeling of connectedness to all that surrounds us.
The good news is that in order to increase your charisma you don’t need to learn anything new. You simply have to feel comfortable being you, connect with your emotions and find purpose and personal meaning in your everyday work. This may sound simplistic because it takes real courage to remain fundamentally true to who we really are inside – with every individual (or horse) we meet – and in every context. Years of environmental conditioning often stops us from allowing our softer and therefore, more vulnerable side to show. Once we start to honour our true self we experience a feeling of euphoria at the sheer sensation of being alive. And in the same way that we never forget how to ride a bike this feeling of bliss is our birthright, it is a natural state that is within all of us, just waiting to be awakened.