Published: 02nd April 2017
Reining in a world of leaders
Dr Ronald Campbell talks about the unprecedented use of horses in his leadership programme, his experience in the US Coast Guard and what it takes to be a leader
In a world of entrepreneurs and start-ups, anyone can be a leader. Some are innately qualified, while others need help improving their leadership skills. Now, if you fall under the latter category, then Dr Ronald Campbell, Principal of the Leadership Research Institute, California is the leadership guru you seek. Over the past 30 years, Dr Ron has made a difference in shaping the lives of potential leaders. But we learn that that’s not all he’s good for. He has also been actively involved in equestrian training to rehabilitate at-risk and differently-abled children. Combining his two interests, he has developed an experiential leadership programme on horseback.
He was recently in India to spearhead the launch of Potential Genesis, the Indian Affiliate of HRM Possibilities — a leadership centre that he set-up with two of the world’s most foremost thinkers. We caught up with him to chat about his unique leadership programme, his stint in the US Coast Guard, and what it takes to be a leader. Excerpts:
You are an avid horseman and are into equestrian training for rehabilitation. Why horses though?
In the US, there’s a programme called the REINS Therapeutic Horsemanship Program. They found that horses provide a good therapeutic connection to at-risk children and those with disabilities. These children come angry and hurt, and getting through to them would take weeks, but the horses could accomplish a breakthrough in a mere 20 minutes.
How do horses help in the rehabilitation of children with disabilities?
About 50 years ago, I met with an accident and broke my back. Being on pain killers, it became a difficult time to focus. During that time, there was a television programme that I came across where a young boy, who was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy, shared with his doctor that he wanted to ride a horse. His muscles were quickly deteriorating and he was expected to be wheelchair-bound in a matter of months. But then something miraculous happened. After many riding sessions, he stayed on the crutches, and in fact, he even started depending less on them. I remember the explanation the doctor gave was that the muscles over the horse’s ribs essentially give off the same electrical impulse as the inside of our thighs. So the horse's muscles were reawakening the rider’s weak muscles and this had a much greater effect than chemicals, therapy and all of that combined.
How did you come up with the idea of a leadership programme on horseback?
A client of ours, who is a fellow hippophile, requested us for an executive team-building programme. We discussed the idea of conducting the workshop on horseback; I borrowed horses from a few friends and conducted this wonderful three-hour workshop for the first time. It has only grown from there.
And what if someone has a fear of horses?
I remember that there was one person who had a fear of horses, he was with the California Highway Patrol. We did a classroom experience and he knew that the ‘horse day’ was coming up. He approached me that morning and said that he had had a couple of bad experiences with horses. I always believed that one of the greatest things to overcome fear is discovery and from there the process naturally takes over.
How does leadership work with people who don't have leadership traits?
I do think that there are some people out there who have learned very well by curiosity or by example. So, we do some of their homework for them and do what can be done to ensure that their leadership skills are fine-tuned. There is a tremendous amount of learning that comes just from life.
You have served in the US Coast Guard. Are there any lessons you learnt from there?
I served in the US Coast Guard for 13 years. I loved it. I think the very first time you go out on a mission and rescue someone off a burning boat, you get such a sense of meaning and purpose. They had a college assistance programme that allowed me to pursue the education that I wanted while I was on active duty. The biggest lesson I learnt while serving was keeping calm in a crisis. I panicked during the very first rescue I was a part of, I was screaming out commands and didn't contribute to the situation. So, learning how to stay calm in a situation like that was a life lesson for me.