Taking lessons from horses – by Publicis’s Nathalie Gevresse

By Publicis Communications’ CEO, Nathalie Gevresse

Writing about leadership can sound a bit cliché. Having recently joined Publicis Groupe, it’s not fair to describe how I got here but much more importantly I’d much rather focus on the why. 

Before joining, I asked myself a couple of questions: What defines a leader today, is it a summation of their experiences. Is age a factor. Is it based on one’s tenure within a company or is leadership a meritocratic path. How relevant are the connections one makes to get to the top? Does gender play a role. 

Most importantly, what defines a good leader and what value can I bring to the table.    

To me, being a leader is much more than seniority, a title, or a gender profile. It is a mindset. Let me explain this further by going back to my childhood.    

Taking lessons from horses 

I come from a deeply rooted equestrian background and grew up working with horses from a very young age. Horses can best be described as unpredictable human beings who obviously can’t speak but are still very much capable of all forms of self-expression. They have strong emotions, larger-than-life personalities and a lot of energy. There is no choice but to team up with them if you want to succeed. Unlocking the true potential of a horse is only possible through earned trust, deep listening, understanding, adapting, and a lot of hard work and commitment to achieve the best results whether it is jumping, dressage or other disciplines.   

Quite often when dealing with horses, things do not go as planned but this is where having the right energy is critical. Horses just like humans are highly empathetic and can pick up on emotional cues. If you are stressed and aggressive, they will associate you with negativity but if you are calm, decisive, and positive they will associate you with trust, happiness and be loyal forever. 

The makings of a good leader 

In fact, leadership is very similar. Leaders have the unique ability to bring the best out of their talent, motivating them to realise their potential. Their relationships are formed around an unspoken agreement built from trust and understanding. They believe in teamwork and empowerment, not hierarchy and delegation. They can inspire and motivate individuals of all backgrounds, experiences, ambitions, and emotions to collaborate as a team. As a leader, positive actions not words have resulted in the best outcomes for my team. Respect is something to be earned not demanded. It was as though my years of working with horses prepared me for the actualities of life later down the line.   

Valuable life lessons

Years and years of the equestrian sport made me resilient from a young age. You fall, you get back on. Building a relationship with horses required immense amounts of patience, intuition, and humility. More importantly, the learning never stopped. I was on a constant journey of discovery and growth when it came to these animals.  

Looking at where we are today, we are so fortunate to be a part of an industry that is dynamic and ever-evolving and we need to embrace this change. Humans by nature are creatures of habit and as leaders, we need to encourage a culture that takes risks. There’s nothing to lose, only learn. Resilience in the face of adversity is about embracing these challenges while also acknowledging the reality of potential failure. The journey may be unclear at times, but it is our role to identify and harness the best traits out of our talent, our partners and our clients to achieve success.       

In summary, my time with horses taught me two valuable lessons in life that have shaped the leader I am today.

Lead by example. 

Do what you love.