How You Can Lead From Behind With Kelly Wendorf
What’s the most powerful type of leadership? It’s to lead from behind. The show’s guest today is Kelly Wendorf, an ICF Master Certified Coach and Founder of EQUUS. Kelly talks with Tony Martignetti how leading from behind is the emotional, psychic, and spiritual position you take to push others out so they can shine! Kelly also shares her passion for horses. Join in the conversation to learn more about how horses are perfect examples of leading from behind. In fact, horses are the inspiration for her book Flying Lead Change: 56 Million Years of Wisdom for Leading and Living. Tune in and lead from behind!
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How You Can Lead From Behind With Kelly Wendorf
Kelly Wendorf is an ICF Master Certified Coach and Founder of , a discovery, leadership, and self-mastery development organization. The company offers coaching for clients, thought leaders, and certifications for advanced coaches.
It is my honor to introduce you to my guest Kelly Wendorf. Kelly is a Founding Partner of EQUUS, a leadership development organization. She's a Master Certified Coach and the Author of the book, Flying Lead Change: 56 Million Years of Wisdom for Leading and Living by Sounds True Publishing. She specializes in creating conditions for breakthrough learning and transformation. Her work sits at the nexus of neuroscience, contemplated wisdom, systems theory and nature-based intelligence. EQUUS is based in the beautiful Santa Fe, New Mexico area and it is not to be missed. Trust me, I've been there. It’s an unbelievable experience.
I want to welcome you to the show, Kelly.
Thank you so much, Tony. It's great to be here.
I'm so looking forward to digging into how you have arrived at this point in your life. I'm excited about your book and I'm looking forward to knowing some of these amazing moments that have brought you here.
Thank you so much for inviting me to be here.
This is your first time on the show and I want to make sure you understand how we roll. We cover what's called flashpoints in people's stories. The moments in your life that have ignited your gift to the world. There may be one or many, I wanted to make sure you have that moment to share what you're called to share and along the way, we'll stop, pause and see what comes up. With that, I'm going to give you the floor to take it away.
It's such a generous question around flashpoints to have the moment to recall what has influenced the work that I do now. My father is an archeologist. He was quite well-renowned. When I was a small child, we did a lot of traveling around the world. When I was seven, he took us to Ethiopia and we spent several weeks there. It was 1970s Ethiopia. My brother and I, two tiny blonde white children in the bush of Ethiopia was a target politically.
My father hired a Rama warrior, the indigenous people of Ethiopia, to take care of us while he was in the field doing his work. This warrior's job was to be alongside my brother and me while we were in the desert there to protect us from baboons and from kidnapping, although my father didn't make that explicit. This man became a friend to me even though we did not speak the same language, we were not from the same culture, I'm sure he was easily 20 to 30 years older than me.
We shared a silent language together and he took good care of me but there was something underneath words and everything that was between the two of us. To have this companionship collided with the way I had been conditioned as a child in America in things around what it means to be human, race, class and all these things that we take on when we're socialized as children. This man was not any of the things that I had known or understood before. It broke a spell of what it means to be human because he lived as a free man in many ways and our connection was so outside of societal norms.
When it was time for us to leave after these weeks, I was waiting for him to see us off. He was sitting alone in a chair and it was dark because it was early morning. I jumped up on his lap because I could tell he was very sad but what I didn't notice until a few moments later was that he was weeping. We were holding each other and it was the first time I had seen a man cry. These experiences break open our hearts and minds.
We need to have the right relationship with ourselves, each other, and the earth.
That's what happened to me in the embrace of this beautiful man who loved me so completely as his own as if we belong together, even though we were not family and we did not know each other in the traditional sense. That was the seed because when I left Ethiopia, I felt different than the other children. I felt I had seen goodness in humanity that wasn't available in the protected layers of modern humanity.
It set me on a trajectory from that point forward to be a little bit of an outsider, the weird kid much more comfortable in nature, with traditional people where I could find them and with animals and places where that communion is possible. I wasn't finding it in school, in college, at work later that there was some incongruence to the way we were being socialized to be as human beings and this true deep heartful free capacity to love and deeply care for one another.
I would say that that was a real pivotal flashpoint and it led me to unconventional places to seek my answers. I spent many years in India studying with spiritual teachers. As a mother, I had brought my children at home. I was doing that differently and looking at the science behind raising children, birthing children and deciding to color outside the lines. Not because I was running rogue but because what we're told isn't necessarily that.
I met an important teacher, his name was Uncle Bob Randall. He is the listed custodial elder of Uluru, which is Ayers Rock in Australia. The real name is Uluru. I was working with him to transcribe some of his teachings. This meant that we spent many days together, many hours, weeks and months, over a long stretch of time where he basically downloaded lots of information from their 60,000-year-old culture around the right relationship to ourselves, to the earth and to each other.
Their people are oral tradition based. It was quite an opportunity to record his words, transcribed them and go back to him and say, “What did you mean when you said this? How does this connect with this?” It’s to dive deep into these ancient teachings which were very resonant with my first experience with this Ethiopian man when I was seven. This is what informs my work as a coach. I'm a lifelong horsewoman and informs how I work with my horses, inspire them to partner with me and the clients like yourself who came.
It's about deconstructing oppressive mindsets, ideologies and structures that we all live inside because we're modern people who have been commercialized and deconstructing those so that we can find what our authentic way is of living in the world. Who are we outside who we've been trained to be, who we've been taught we should be, who we think we need to be for others, who is that authentic, amazing, gifted, bright light of a human? My real interest is deconstructing those things for people so that they can shine forward. I've said a lot so far.
I didn't want to stop for a moment because I'm feeling into it so much. I think back to the beginning of your conversation to think of a few things. Number one, did your father have any inclination that what he was getting himself into when he brought his children to this world and what was going to be kicked off at that moment?
My father was a teacher in another way. He was a narcissist and I say that with no judgment. He was a magnificent teacher for me in many ways. He was so absorbed in his work and in his profession that I don't know if he gave it any consideration at all. I'm so grateful that somehow my days as a child were in the company of ancient artifacts, ancient lands and indigenous peoples because that was his office.
If I wanted to go and hang out with him, that was where I would do it. Some deep part of his soul commune with these ancient things because something for him resonated there but he would never necessarily say that he had a deeply spiritual connection with those things. I believe that he did when you look at how present he was with that.
In some ways, I know that we've talked about leading from behind. There's some amount of him doing these things that led you in this path of where you are by him not necessarily telling you that this is the path he wanted you to follow.
We should talk about leading from behind. What he did do whether he realized it or not was he created conditions for me to find this amazing way. It wasn't deliberate but who cares? The point is the conditions were created and he created those same conditions for other family members but they didn't take that trajectory. It's like with coaching.
You can create conditions and still, it's that person's initiative and life's journey that will either take that opportunity or may not. Leading from behind, thinking about it for going to call with you, what is that? A lot of people are like, “What's leading from behind?” It's that it's an emotional, psychic, spiritual position that you take as a leader that pushes the others out to the floor so that they can shine.
You creating this conversation together is you leading from behind and doing this. Many people don't think that they're leaders because they imagine leading is out front and somehow being in the spotlight. The most powerful leadership is when you, as a leader, have enabled those who you serve to be emboldened and be all that they could be to the point where they don't even know you're doing anything. That's a great leading from behind.
Ever since I've had the experience of being with the courses at EQUUS, it was amazing to see that in action, see an example of that and have it modeled. It’s so beautiful. I want to get back to your story to understand more about this. What was kicked off in that moment of your childhood made you see the world in such a different way and experience things that you would never have experienced, had you not had that experience. You navigated the world through a different lens and you realized that there was a gift in that that you weren't going to be able to live life like everyone else. In some ways, that can be a burden. Tell me when it was a challenge to be you.
It's a challenge every single day. I can assure you. In all seriousness, I say that because when you're in the transformation business, as you're in, Tony, if you and I were destined to be electricians, we would have gotten lots of teachings and education on electrician things. Voltage, lights switches, wires, whatever you have to learn and you'll keep learning things. That's not what we signed up for. We signed up for something else.
If you're in the transformation business, that means you're going to get a ton of teachings on transformation. When would that stop? When do you ever stop transforming? Never. We're verbs, we're not nouns and we’re always becoming. Every day is a challenge but not in that sense of like, “God, poor me,” and there's whole unconscious incompetence that I didn't realize. Now, it's conscious incompetence and I get to learn about it.
A case in point, for example, like all this stuff that's coming up around becoming an ally and being an anti-racist and all of the things that are emerging that are calling me as a human to learn so much and see so much about myself that I have not seen before. There's always an equal part fulfillment, equal part challenge, equal part inspiration and joy that walks with me every day. To go back to the spirit of your question of when it's been hard challenging, I would have to say it's when I have somehow veered off the path and started living my life outside of my integrity.
Those are hard lessons to learn. That's when suffering and a lot of heaviness because you're in territory you don't need to be in. If I'm aligned with my purpose, my work, my integrity, my values, challenges can come but I'm building towards something. It’s an example that's coming to mind. In college, I joined a sorority to please my mom.
It was the worst place on Earth for me. You know me now. What am I doing in a sorority? It was a horrible experience for me. I was a terrible sorority sister and awful. Being an awful sorority sister, you get a lot of lessons but those weren't the ones I needed to learn. That's a superficial example but it shows there's a visceral sense of the difference between a good challenge and a useless challenge.
I'm feeling into this element of when you try to fit in you, it's a struggle and for most people, too. There's this element of sometimes you struggle hard to fit into the world and when you try to do something that you're not meant to be doing, being out of integrity, that's when things start to go awry. When you start to be more in yourself and say, “Who am I? Who can I be? How can it be more me?”
Let that the freak flag fly. It becomes freeing and it allows you to become more authentic. Back to your story, which I think was so powerful because it allowed you to have a more authentic relationship with others and with the world. To open yourself up to lessons that are powerful lessons, they're not going to be easy but they're lessons that you need to learn so you can become more of who you're meant to be.
I have this hang-up around the semantics of lessons versus teachings. Lessons for me in my brain are a little bit of finger waggy like, “You have to learn that lesson. You're going to learn that lesson yet.” I disagree. I believe we're given teaching that empowers us to be teachers. Sometimes we get Teaching 1.0 and 1.20.
Our bodies are great barometers for us to detect when we're a little off course.
I get a lot of teachings around the relationship but they're always slightly nuanced and different and it's so that I can be a better service. I'm not getting lessons because I'm some loser person who doesn't get it. The reframe is a little different. I like to say teachings because it feels nobler. We signed up for this human journey and to be of service in some way therefore we're going to get an education.
I love the way he put that. It's something that I think from now on, I'm going to use that lexicon. I feel like it's something that is more empowering. It shows that you are learning from the things that have happened along the way and they're not this element of like, “I'm continuing to fail.” That was teaching.
To echo what you were saying about being our authentic selves. This is my opinion but as the world gets faster and more technologically driven, the messages of how we're meant to be socialized are coming thick, fast and way more than if you were born in 1720. We're told by social media and by all these things that are coming at us about how we should be, who we should be, how we should do it and why we should do it, all these things.
I believe there's so much anxiety in the space because we are not in alignment. We're living into what we think we need to be and we feel anxious. We take medications for the anxiety, not always but often I think that anxiety is telling us something. “This is too tight. This is a little box you put yourself in. This is the day that you have to live to get to the other side and to have your glass of wine at 5:00.” It's too tight and deconstructing all these little tiny micro messages that tell us who we need to be so that we can live freely authentic. It’s important.
It’s like this idea of retirement. Everybody is like, “If you're at a certain age, you retire.” What does that mean? That one word. Think of all the constructs that are around that one word that people suffer around whether they have enough money for retirement, they're old because they're retiring and now they need to go play golf. One little word that's out there that creates so much limitation.
To use the term, words create worlds but funny, that word created this poor energy around that then people say, “I’m not able to do that. What am I doing wrong?” The anxiety starts to ramp up around that.
Let's take that out of space.
It's a great thing to think about because it makes you think about how can you make it more empowering for you to be able to say, “I'm moving towards this next chapter, which I'm so excited about and I'm ready for whatever comes next.”
Maybe you do not even have that word in your language if that serves you. Our bodies are great barometers for when we're a little off course. I know when I start to feel tight, diminished, anxious and subdued that somewhere I'm entertaining something that's too small for me. Some belief patterns, some habit patterns or something rather than drug or dull those things, I would rather be like, “Wow.” I would like to listen to it.
You talked earlier about nature and I think nature is the best medicine. The daily pattern we get ourselves in when we sit at the desk all day or we find ourselves at a desk, getting outside for a moment and experiencing nature for a few minutes and has such an amazing impact on how we feel. It's crazy. People underestimate the impact that has.
There's a lot of science behind what it does. The other flashpoint for me is around the same time. Around 7 or younger, 4 or 5, I met my first horse. My godmother brought him over to our front yard in the middle of the city. I'll never forget, she puts me up on his back and the smell. I am completely for the rest of my life intoxicated by this creature. They too were, have been and continue to be my staunchest teachers, my most strict and resolute teachers for my education.
I'm so glad you brought that up because that was where I wanted to go next. I wanted you to talk a bit about how you came to be at EQUUS and working with horses. How did that all come to be? You weren't originally from New Mexico, I take it.
I’m originally from New Mexico. My father ran a laboratory of anthropology here. My mother is a flight attendant for TWA worked for Howard Hughes and they ended up here. I’m a horse-crazy girl because I was that weird kid. The only place I wanted to be was bareback on my horse running around the countryside and that's where I spent my childhood, on the back of a horse. In my 20s I started riding school.
I was a professional dressage rider, trainer and was in that equestrian world fully. Another world full of concepts and limiting structures. There was a point where I felt to my bone marrow the suffering that happens to horses in that world. We say that we love them but there's still a tool to get over that fence, get that ribbon and push that cow. There are some very special equestrians out there but very few treat the horse as a sentient being equal to ourselves. I couldn't live with that, I didn't know how to reconcile it and the cost to these incredible creatures.
I threw the whole thing away. That's when I went to India, vowed and never go near the equestrian world again but the horses wouldn't leave me alone. I immigrated to Australia as a single mother of two young children. I had to put food on the table so I founded a magazine called Kindred. Kindred was a very ambitious project. The premise of the magazine was asking this one question, “How do we raise a just and sustainable society?”
That's a very ambitious question. We pulled articles from lots of academic places and brought an evidence-based exploration into how do we raise a just and sustainable society? We looked at parenthood, birthing practices, healthcare and local farming. That is where I learned so much about neuroscience. I'm going to bring all this together. We have the indigenous piece, which started when I was seven with the horse piece that started to weave in and with Kindred.
I put myself at the feet of many neuroscientists who were looking at how our brains are shaped, how they're influenced and how they change and grow. To me, that was like, “Wow.” It is so exciting that 66% of our brain we can change and 33% we're stuck with. I geeked out on neuroscience, I still do. I ran Kindred for a while.
I had horses in my life but wasn't professionally with them and started to learn the art of horse whispering while I was in Australia, which was a much more nuanced and equitable relationship with horses. Once I started listening to the horses rather than talking to them about all the things they should do for me, something magical happened. Horses are so magical. I'm not saying this as a horse-crazy girl.
If we have time, we go into the science as to why when they partner with people in this way, they create so much transformation. All these doors started opening to me about the horses' capacity to liberate capacities in us that are life-giving. Capacities like wisdom, courage, love, openness, sense of adventure and boundaries and all these things in these horses. They will help you find connection, peace and joy.
I immigrated back to the states, donated the magazine to a nonprofit, came back to Santa Fe and was starting a new chapter of my life. What am I going to do with the neuroscience, the indigenous stuff, the horse whispering and my love for human transformation? I got trained as a coach and put it all together into one bundle, which is using nature-based systems whether it's horses or the wisdom of nature, contemplative wisdom, which is what I got from India.
Neuroscience and coaching bring together an approach to coaching that is truly transformative. We have this herd of six horses and a donkey. The people will come out here, work with the horses and their lives will be very deeply touched. A lot of my work is done remotely on the phone but bringing these principles into play.
It is a beautiful combination of all the right things all in one place. The neuroscience and the coaching and all of these pieces make sense. The experience of being with these beautiful animals, not just your horses particularly or if it's any horses but I think that it is amazing what you've created.
Go back to nature to gain wisdom so you can navigate the world.
Thank you. Can I get a little cosmic with you? The horse underneath their feet, they have a spongy, squishy part in the middle of their foot that touches the Earth. From that place, there's a main arterial system that goes up to their heart. The horse is feeling the electromagnetic pulse of the Earth through their heart.
When you're engaging with a horse, you're engaging with a conduit that is an active relationship with the Earth and the entire cosmos. It is an interactive play that gets to happen. Somehow the horses would their enormous bodies and their giant nervous system positively inform your nervous system to that alignment. In a way, they're a tuning fork and your body tunes itself to that tuning fork. That's why it works. I've way over-simplified it but that's why it works the way it does.
The irony is I understand that entirely, which is a complete surprise but I get that. I hope the readers are along the journey. If they need to dig deeper, they know who to call. Call Kelly. I feel like there's so much I want to dig into and there's so much we could go into. I want to know what are the biggest lessons that you'd like to share at this point with the people who are reading during your journey in life? What are the things that you've taken away and the biggest teaching?
One, don't believe anything that you have learned about who you need should be. It may feel real but if you look at it closely, you'll see it's a construct. For example, the word retirement. Don't believe it. That's one big teaching. Two, I believe each and every one of us on this planet was destined to serve in some way.
What is that? That would be an eternal question. What is that for you? Three, the thing that the indigenous people knew and know that we have lost as modern people and that some of the ancient sages and saints know. You've got this image of the Buddha who's sitting in Lotus but he's got his hand touching the Earth, Gautama Buddha, I believe is his name. What they know is that you cannot navigate in this world with wisdom without access to that natural world.
You have to touch the Earth because the earth will inform your body in a way that if you are disconnected from the Earth and nature, you will be deprived of an ancientness that needs and wants to inform you. The natural world misses us. We flood on top of it and get all separate from it so go back to the Earth in whatever way. Your cat, dog or tree in the park looking at the clouds has a subtle but important impact on you as a wisdom being. Those are my three.
I'm feeling this element of a word that comes up for me is the grounding energy that I need to reconnect with. In fact, I can't wait to wrap up so I can go out and touch the ground again. Not because of who I am in front of me, I want to be with you as long as I can here. That was powerful. One last question, unrelated to most of what we've talked about so far but I do want to know what is one book that's had an impact on your life?
I have so many books but the one I'm going to come to is called The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron. Why that book? It's like a coaching book. She's asking such powerful questions. If you engage in the book and do the little questions she asks, the journaling and everything, life does change. It's very powerful. It's an alchemical book. My book wouldn't have been written if I hadn't engaged in The Artist's Way.
It's funny because most people don't know this but I was an artist growing up. I put away all my tools and became more of an analytical person for most of my life. I've been starting to get back into the world of being creative. I love this whole idea of connecting with The Artist's Way. I read the book again twice and I love that book.
I'm so glad you brought it. It's one of my favorites. Thank you so much for coming to the show. This has been powerful. I had so many great insights and great stories. I want to make sure that I give you an opportunity to share where people can find you. I definitely am excited about your book. I know and that you have some great things to offer to the people who have reading. Where can people find you?
Thank you so much. KellyWendorf.com is my website or EQUUSInspired.com but the easiest is FlyingLeadChange.com, which is the title of the book. You'll find out what that is and what that means on that webpage. Everybody on your show can download a free excerpt of the book and you'll also get 22 practices that will transform your life. It’s a free download. We're pushing pre-orders.
It is released mid-October 2021 but pre-orders of the deal because it gives us a chance to aim for the New York Times and we've already sold thousands on pre-order. I'm so excited we're getting there. A portion of the book's proceeds is going to Tewa Women United, which is a native indigenous woman-founded organization non-profit. Their mission is nurturing and celebrating the collective power of families and communities on Earth.
They're a beautiful group of native women here in Santa Fe. If people go there and keep an eye out for it, there is a contest. If you help us with pre-orders, you can go into and join to get a free half-day private EQUUS experience retreat and work with the horses or go in and win a two-day private retreat and work with the horses. There's a lot of fun stuff happening.
This is not to be missed. This is amazing. I can't believe how generous you are being. I can't wait to read this book. I think I was one of the first people to pre-order it.
I’m a huge fan, Kelly. I can't wait to see what next chapters are going to be in store for you. Thank you so much for coming to the show.
Your service to the world and the way that you're lifting the human heart up in this way is beautiful. I commend you for it. I love you. Thank you so much for this time.
Thank you. Thank you to the readers for coming on the journey with us. I know you're leaving with so much to take in. I hope that you have a great day.
- Flying Lead Change: 56 Million Years of Wisdom for Leading and Living
- The Artist's Way
- Tewa Women United
- Apple Podcast – Virtual Campfire
- Facebook – Inspired Purpose Coach
- Twitter - @TonyMartignett1
- LinkedIn - @TonyMartignett1
About Kelly Wendorf
Kelly Wendorf is an ICF Master Certified Coach, a published author, motivational speaker, skilled systems-change and leadership mentor and socially responsible entrepreneur. Kelly’s early experiences were vitally and deeply shaped by the natural and ancient world around her where she learned a way of listening to forces within people, nature and moments.
Kelly has lived and worked around the world, studying with many spiritual and Indigenous leaders in India, Africa, Indonesia and Australia. Immersion in multi-cultural perspectives honed a passion for creating a new narrative in the human condition, empowering organizations and their leaders to wield meaningful change through servant leadership and innovative business development. She has worked inside a spectrum of clientele - from Amazon, to Microsoft to some of the most under-served communities.
Kelly founded, edited and published Kindred magazine, an evidence-based publication exploring the social, cultural and biological underpinnings of a compassionate society. Kelly also authored and edited Stories of Belonging (Finch, Australia), an anthology, including the often excluded Indigenous voices.
Today, Kelly is Partner with Scott Strachan at EQUUS, an innovative self-mastery, discovery and leadership development organization. EQUUS creates conditions for breakthrough learning through custom-curated experiential processes for their clientele. Kelly specializes in the liberation of robust leadership capacities in her clients, assisting them to actualize a lives of profound meaning, purpose and success, beyond their imagination.
She developed Wisdom Circles®, an innovative remotely facilitated peer-learning process that supports cohorts towards sustained transformative change. And as a gifted and intuitive horsewoman and educator, Kelly developed The EQUUS Experience® an equine-assisted learning process. It is used in corporate, academic, personal and organizational environments to explore collaborative leadership, non-predatory uses of power, and self-mastery. Kelly and Scott continue to develop and grow The EQUUS Experience and EQUUS’s other complimentary processes.
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