Trust and Permission

A leadership lesson in vulnerability

I’m delighted to share this post by Pam Billinge, writer, leadership coach, and specialist in Embodied Horse-Led Leadership Development. I always encourage coaches to use supervision, and this is a powerful story of how much of a difference it can make to coaching practice. Thank you Pam – being your supervisor is a joy and a privilege!

Late in 2021 I was delivering a client programme when, out of the blue, I received some extremely difficult news. My blood froze when I saw the 12 missed calls throughout the day from two different numbers I didn’t recognise. What I learned in the subsequent minutes folded me in two and knocked me to the ground. There was no question of me entering the classroom again, I was in deep shock and grief.

Five months later Spring 2022 dawned and it was time for me to get back to doing the work I love, facilitating Equest’s horse-led leadership development programmes. We had 20 international leaders coming to the farm where we are based in Wiltshire for a two day programme. As it approached, still feeling raw and emotionally spent from the aftermath of my bereavement, I began to doubt whether I was up to leading our team of 10 humans and 8 horses and facilitating an intense process for a group of this size.

The nature of the leadership development we offer plumbs the depths of human emotion albeit gently. We’d be talking about being authentic, connecting with the essential self, about being vulnerable and creating emotional safety. And here I was, the programme leader, on track to be perhaps the most vulnerable person in the room. I knew my feelings of trauma could easily be triggered at the location where my nightmare had started and I began to question whether I should do the programme at all. I was terrified of spoiling the experience for the group, of being hijacked by my feelings, of looking stupid, of losing control, of not being able to provide a safe environment for others.

‘What is the worst thing that can happen?’ My supervisor said to me in our session a couple of  weeks before the programme.

‘That I break down and completely lose it,’ I said.

‘So? What would happen if you did?’ She continued.

‘I suppose one of my team would take over. I would trust them implicitly to carry on without me, to cover for me.’

‘And what would the impact on the participants be of you breaking down? What kind of example would it set?’

‘I guess it would be an example of authentic behaviour, and of being courageous enough to be vulnerable!’ I couldn’t help a wry giggle.

So on the morning of the programme I briefed my team that they needed to be ready and verbalised the trust I had in them. Together we devised a ‘Pam breakdown back-up plan.’

The classroom hummed with happy expectation as I stood to welcome the client group. I shared that I’d had some bad news the last time I stood there and that I was still fragile, which the tremor in my voice betrayed. But I breathed deeply, grounded my turbulent feelings down through my feet, looked outside to the tranquil herd, the beautiful landscape, the red kites hovering overhead. I felt calmer. I had done it. I had named my vulnerability and suddenly everything seemed possible.

My usual introduction didn’t seem appropriate. Instead I read to the group from my journal about why the leadership development work I do with horses is so important to me. I spoke of how our approach has evolved through the interconnection and courage and contribution of many, both human and equine. I held myself together, just about, and the emotional chord I struck continued to vibrate it’s beautiful harmonies throughout the following two days for everyone present. I hadn’t broken down as I had feared, but I hadn’t pretended either. I had let my emotions live and breathe within the group process. And the group’s learning experience was richer for it: safe, joyful and profound.

I had rested in Trust – of my colleagues, of the horses, of our clients, of the process. And I had given myself Permission – to be truly real, to shed the need to be brave, or infallible, or in charge. The heart-opening which I had no choice other than to embrace flowed through to the group – they trusted and they too gave themselves permission to be true to themselves.

This experience has changed the way that I lead forever.  Whilst the pain caused by my bereavement will lessen over time, I trust that the gifts it gave me – how to be openly vulnerable with grace, intention and fortitude and how to ask for help – will continue to grow and make me a better leader, practitioner and human being.

Pam is a writer, leadership coach, specialist in Embodied Horse-Led Leadership Development and Director of Equest Limited. Her books The Spell of the Horse, Stories of Healing and Personal Transformation with Nature’s Finest Teacher and The Spirit of the Horse, Finding Healing and Spiritual Connection with the Horse, are published by Blackbird Books and available from all good publishers.

Tackling silent bullying in the workplace



Have you ever been ignored, rejected or felt slighted by a colleague or a boss? Have you ever given someone the ‘silent treatment’?


Silent bullying is common and costly, I know a lovely woman who was so badly shunned by her boss she became depressed, burnt-out and left a career she loved.  I’ve also been a target –  in a  place where I’d felt liked, appreciated and respected. Because of the behaviour of one person, I felt I didn’t  matter, it was like I didn’t exist.  The good news:  it was limited to relatively a small project. Continue reading “Tackling silent bullying in the workplace”

“A Magnificent Profession” – The future of management?

shutterstock_109645829Management is out of fashion, not many people want to be called a manager, they might want their title to be leader, or entrepreneur, or even coach – but manager?

Executives have been getting bad press for years now, they are thought to lack integrity, a 2008 Gallup poll on honesty and ethics found that 37% rated executives low or very low. Things haven’t improved since then.  Is it possible that the way management is portrayed by ‘leadership’ gurus encourages ethical decline? Continue reading ““A Magnificent Profession” – The future of management?”

Walking Coaching

old long roadFollowing the previous post about pilgrimage I had some requests to say more about ‘Walking Coaching’.  So here goes…

‘Walking meetings’ have become a bit of a fad among  Silicon Valley and New York entrepreneurs, as well as at the White House where Barak Obama often ends his working day with a walking meeting with his chief of staff.   Steve Jobs was known for taking walking meetings, Mark Zuckerberg is said to have picked up the habit from Jobs. Continue reading “Walking Coaching”

The Power of Vulnerability

BabyDo you feel you are enough?

Sometimes, as we are busy coaching to improve performance, meet goals and help our clients achieve more, we can find that another very different question rises to the surface.   It’s not about hard goals and outcomes and can be tricky to pin down; it’s  question that arises in a tentative, hesitant, almost faltering way, it goes something like this:  “Given there is always ‘more’ that I can ‘go for’, where do I find a sense of enough?  A sense that who I am  is enough?” Continue reading “The Power of Vulnerability”

Coaching Through Organisational Change


Recently, one of my clients described her leadership role as working in a minefield. She pictured herself in potentially hostile territory, without a map, not knowing if a bomb was inches away. A powerful image of turbulent organisational life; with economic uncertainty, rapidly changing technology, globalisation, restructuring, downsizing and good old fashioned acquisitions and mergers. All contributing to unpredictable, potentially explosive working environments, places where hidden explosives of depression, anxiety and stress can blow your life apart.

Continue reading “Coaching Through Organisational Change”

International Stoic Week: 25th Nov – 1st Dec

Emperor Marcus AureliusDid you know we’re in the middle of International Stoic Week at the moment?

No, well I wouldn’t have either if I hadn’t received an invitation to a workshop at the University of Exeter about how Ancient Philosophical Ethics could contribute to Modern Business a few weeks back.

I spent a fascinating couple of hours learning about Stoicism; the 2000 year old philosophy as way of life which encouraged resilience, flourishing in relationships and contributing to the common good. Continue reading “International Stoic Week: 25th Nov – 1st Dec”

Addressing Leadership Shortfall

Is your organisation doing enough to develop the next generation of leaders?

MP900398747 catching starsNew research  published in the Ashridge Management Index shows that many managers (48%) don’t think enough is being done to develop the skills and experiences of younger managers. As well as specific targeting of future leaders, the report recommends that there should be higher levels of investment in learning and development for teams and senior managers. Clearly, though there have been improvements, there is still work to be done in meeting the challenge of building organisations which value learning and development and appreciate the long term positive impact it has upon the financial bottom line. Continue reading “Addressing Leadership Shortfall”

Personality Profiling and Coaching

three handprintsLast week I attended a workshop on Luminaspark psychometric profiling. I’ve always had reservations about personality profiling.  I worry that people might be pigeon holed, or that profiling might filter diversity out of organisational cultures.

Luminaspark is different. It recognises complexity and diversity within the personality and so fits very neatly with the subpersonalities model from psychosynthesis which informs my work in coaching. Continue reading “Personality Profiling and Coaching”