What is a Flying Lead Change?

An excerpt from my soon to be released book Flying Lead Change: 56 Million Years of Wisdom for Leading and Living

On a hot, humid afternoon, a small dog-like creature nibbles on fruit suspended above a lush fern-covered ground. The thick jungle forest is bursting with sound, as this is a time when mammal life explodes with innovative evolutionary options. Nearby our earliest ancestor (also small) moves past, vying for the same sweet delicacy. For a moment the two lock eyes.

Fifty-six-million years later, in the same place we now call Wyoming, their descendants are working together in perfect harmony, human and horse, to move a herd of cattle off a northern slope into a grassy valley. As the horse gallops up a ridgeline, suddenly the topography changes, and the herd of cattle makes an abrupt shift. In response, the horse effortlessly executes what is known as a flying lead change—a gravity-defying maneuver that allows them to change balance and respond to the changing scenario without losing momentum or unseating their rider. Like this, horses have been our partner in successfully navigating change for thousands of years—the perfect power couple.

A flying lead change is the equestrian term for a high-level yet natural gymnastic move that happens at the canter, lope, or gallop (a horse’s fastest gait). In lay terms, when a horse canters, they lead with either their left or right set of legs. Say you were watching this cowboy gallop up the ridge. You might see their horse reach with their left front leg farther than their right; that would indicate a left lead. Horses will remain in a particular lead (or at least favor one) and continue their trajectory in that manner. It is only by external influences—a radical change in topography, for example—that the horse will change leads.

The flying lead change, or flying change as it is sometimes called, is when the animal, mid-flight, changes their lead from left to right, or vice-versa. At its finest, when you are astride a highly trained horse who deliberately executes the motion with balanced elegance, a flying change is astonishing to experience.

A masterful feat of gravity defiance that would be the envy of any prima ballerina or black belt, the flying change requires a culmination of complex and coordinated elements executed in one dynamic flow mid-air: attunement to change, connection, balance and equilibrium, a quiet mind, openness to new possibilities, tempo, a suspension of pattern while continuing momentum, and finally levitation to create space for a transition of balance and new direction.

Collectively we are facing the need for the same physics-defying maneuver. Our topography is radically changing, which requires us to change the way we lead our lives, families, and organizations. Such topography calls us to execute this change with similar mastery: attunement, care, presence, connection, mindfulness, openness to possibility, levity, suspension of old habits, maintaining momentum, levitation for a transition of balance into something new . . . humanity’s flying lead change.

We need more than policy change; we need a collective change of heart, a turn of equilibrium, a radical shift in the dynamics of how we do things. Together in this book we will explore the conditions, principles, and practicalities that will, in the midst of our ever-speeding lives, support us to change our lead mid-flight into a new way forward that will sustain us across the millennia as the horse has sustained itself for tens of millions of years.

This book is not about horses. It’s about you and me listening together for a way of living and leading that is both practical and wise, as taught by an ancient successful system.

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