In horsemanship there is a technique called “soft eyes.” It means keeping clear focus and high energy while using a gentle gaze that encompasses extended peripheral vision. As prey animals, horses are sensitive to the intensity of our gaze. When we look at them with steady concentration as a predator might, it can be disconcerting, even frightening. Using soft eyes makes horses more comfortable, relaxed and responsive. When leading or riding a horse using soft eyes, our direction and purpose is strong and clear, yet there is softness, receptivity and responsiveness in our actions. We feel the movement of our bodies and our horses’ bodies better, so our balance, connection, and overall riding skill improve faster. Some trainers have said it is the single most effective horse riding technique.
When I use soft eyes with Echo, he is more comfortable, receptive and quicker to respond. I can more easily feel his tensions and needs, and our responsiveness to each other and to the environment is faster and more effective.
The concept of soft eyes can be applied to leadership as well. In contrast to the single-minded forcefulness of pushing and pulling forward, the best leaders are truly artful at integrating high energy, strong direction, empathy and compassion. They are purposeful but rarely rushed, and they are excellent, intuitive listeners. They have a way of driving accountability while being flexible and adaptable to the needs of their team. They lead with astute alacrity and power combined with kindness and compassion. They engage, inspire and optimize the talents of their teams. Both words and tone matter. You could say they lead using the concept and purpose of soft eyes.
Can you lead with the remarkable effectiveness of soft eyes?