The Power of the Herd: A Nonpredatory Approach to Social Intelligence, Leadership, and Innovation

Image of The Power of the Herd: A Nonpredatory Approach to Social Intelligence, Leadership, and Innovation
Release Date: 
March 12, 2013
New World Library
Reviewed by: 

“. . . for the thoughtful leader or leader-to-be, this book has a place.”

The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness stated “unequivocally” that “non-human animals have the neuroanatomical, neurochemical, and neurophysiological substrates of consciousness states along with the capacity to exhibit intentional behaviors.” So starts out Linda Kohanov’s latest book, The Power of the Herd: A Nonpredatory Approach to Social Intelligence, Leadership, and Innovation.

Ms. Kohanov is a life-long horse lover, rider, and trainer who uses her extensive knowledge of these magnificent beasts and their behaviors in an attempt to teach the reader leadership skills. Most of the skills put forth are not new, yet the author’s approach is unique in her use of anecdotes from throughout history to illustrate her key points.

At 464 pages, some readers will definitely find the length daunting, if not overwhelming. An argument could be made for splitting this into two separate books, with the first book comprised of the current version’s Parts I and II.

In these sections, the author sets out her stories and basic concepts, which may appeal to a more general audience. The Twelve Guiding Principles that form Part III could easily be a stand-alone book, appealing more to the checklist oriented “leader-in-training” or someone for a more “how to” format, given each key point and supporting explanation.

The book unfolds with references to various international historic figures and their horses, including Presidents Washington and Reagan. The author also discusses more generic relationships, such as those held between African herders. She also includes non-horse references; enter Lao Tzu, the founder of Taoism.

Each of these references is used to underscore a message of non-predatory leadership. Ms. Kohanov peppers the text with facts and results from a wide range of scientific researchers, supporting her hypothesis that the traditional aggressive leadership style is not necessary or effective.

An important point discussed in The Power of the Herd is the frequent misquoting of Charles Darwin’s famous evolutionary position—changing “survival of the fittest” to “survival of the strongest.”

Many leaders, companies, and even whole societies use the incorrect quote to justify aggressive, predatory leadership decisions. Antagonistic, “my-way-or-the-highway” leadership is ineffective and even destructive, according to Ms. Kohanov, who takes the position that those best able to adapt to an evolving world and develop a consensual leadership style will perform better and get the most out of any charges.

Put into perspective, the author frequently returns to the principle of non-belligerent leadership as the ideal: “We can” (gaining consensus to lead in a non-aggressive manner) rather than “You will” (the traditional command-and-control, dictatorial, aggressive leadership style).

Consensual leadership, as the author calls this, can only be achieved through understanding and leveraging emotional intelligence, or the ability to perceive, control and evaluate emotions, within oneself and others, and to use this information to guide one's thinking and actions.

The Power of the Herd uses the example of a seven-year-old Fulani boy (a member of a Nigerian nomadic tribe), who is able to lead and herd a drove of cattle easily. Despite the tremendous difference in size between this boy and the cattle, he is able to gently control where they move and when they feed without intimidation. He has learned this technique primarily via observing others in his tribe in preparation for his turn.

The author asserts that without empathy and emotional intelligence this could not occur. She further states that this style of leadership can, and should, be emulated in organizations of all kinds.

Ms. Kohanov maintains a strong position that, in order to be successful, leaders must be the embodiment of emotional intelligence: “When someone feels the need to dominate, especially through force and intimidation, chances are he’s inexperienced in the nuances of more mature forms of leadership.” These more mature forms of leadership evolve from understanding and harnessing our own emotions as well as those of others.

According to Dr. Karl Albrecht, social Intelligence is the ability to get along well with others, and to get them to cooperate with you. The social intelligence that is required to successfully lead “the herd” both complements—and is in return complemented by—the emotional intelligence a leader must develop.

The combination of social and emotional intelligence is the common denominator found is great leaders, according to the author. The balance between the ability to recognize and act upon what positively motivates individuals is the key.

Ms. Kohanov uses horses not as metaphor, but an example. Taking a position that evolved over many years of working with and training them, she asserts that the equines are prey animals rather than predators, despite their enormous size and apparent aggressiveness. Horses typically avoid direct confrontation whenever possible, except when directly threatened. They respond better to gentle rather than aggressive leadership. However, whether predator or prey, leaders are required in every “herd.”

As referenced in the beginning of this review, some readers will find the last section of the book more valuable than the first two sections because of its “12 Guiding Principles.” This section is the “how,” where the previous sections are the “why.” This section begins with “Use Emotion as Information” and introduces the reader to the “Emotional Message Chart.” For those looking to get to the bottom line faster, this may be the manual they are looking for.

As a leadership guide The Power of the Herd’s approach breaks new ground—not necessarily in the concepts themselves, but the way the author delivers them via equine demonstration. For someone looking for a fast reference guide, this is not it. But for the thoughtful leader or leader-to-be, this book has a place.