FACILITYCalgary publisher Mark Kolke, in conversation with Nancy Lowery
April 21, 2015
“I always wanted to work with horses. Every horse is a different teacher – and every human can be a different teacher. It’s all about how you react to what shows up …”
Her influences are many …
Her firm is named The Natural Leader. What could that mean? I expect most everyone can remember the story, the book – and the movie about the Horse Whisperer. Remember? Robert Redford, fixing horses …
Well, this is different – it’s about fixing people and using horses and horsemanship to do it. Nancy Lowery describes her position as the Lead People Whisperer. She entertained me in her farmhouse kitchen, served fresh baked croissants and fantastic coffee one morning as she gave me some horse-ucation. I’m profoundly impressed and think I need to book some time with this wise woman who works with large beasts …
She doesn’t have children. I asked about that. “I’ve never been that interested in other people’s kids. I found I only enjoyed it when those kids love horses. My horses are like a family.” Sure, a family of 21 horses, 14 of which are working-horses in the Natural Leader program.
Nancy got her first horse when she was in the fifth grade. A few years ago her husband suggested this very busy successful project manager - get a hobby.
Well, a lot has changed since then.
Let`s go back to the beginning – Nancy has been a Calgarian since the age of two months. Mom grew up in Hillhurst. Mom was a nurse, dad was a minister from Toronto who got posted to Hardisty (they met at a tea in Toronto at Nancy's grandmother's place). Nancy grew up in Foothills Estates back when it was the far northern reaches of Calgary. She is second born of four sisters, and says “We are all best friends now …”
The family moved to Ottawa (dad’s job). Nancy could always draw. Fast-forward to her degree in Critical Thinking, and studying at Emily Carr. “I could draw!” She earned a diploma in Graphic Design and being a print-media career. That led, among other things, to a great job with Parks Canada – work at the Bar-U, Haida Gwaii and Rogers Pass, using her craft and crafting her skills in management. She spent seven years at Parks Canada, then moved to Critical Mass where she spent eight years in Project Management at the website firm (she worked on major accounts like Proctor & Gamble, Mercedes, Disney, Samsung etc.) where she learned valuable lessons in building a brand … and that is when she moved to Balzac (seems you need a place for all those horses). She’s been whispering to horses and people for 10 years now and has no intention of changing paths – it seems she’s just hitting her stride (pardon my pun). She has, and uses, a ton of horse quote metaphors in her work – and she emailed me some real gems. She’s in the leadership through horsemanship business. She’s spent time teaching at U of C – the program ‘From Horse Sense To People Smart’.
When Critical Mass was sold she ‘took the package’, and those funds enabled the start of a business. After two years planning, she was ready. “Everything I learned about project management, I’d learned from horses – and everything I learned about leading people I learned from horses.”
I spent a glorious morning learning about horses, horse-sense and a remarkably gentle approach to life – an exploration of horsepower …
Or is that horsewoman-power?
“I got a concussion when I came off a horse [editor’s note: ‘came off a horse’ means being thrown] getting back on that horse … was the only time I’ve been fearful, but one of us had to change …. ”
What do you think has contributed most, and best, to your success?
“Being resilient. Tenacity. Having people who support and believe in me. Lots of reasons – to give up showing up, but I look past that.”
What has held you back?
I learned a lot that morning – and though she’s not one to name-drop or promote her client list, she did admit to being very proud of the work she is doing with management folks from ATB Financial. She’s running a series of full and half-day workshops over a six-week program for them in Calgary and Edmonton – not at her property but in a ‘horse arena’ environment. She explained, “the horse has to want to be with you. They’re not compliant.” The matching of scared-stiff of the beasts types (that would be me!), getting matched with appropriate temperament horses is, I'm told, how it works. It seems, as Nancy explains, the most difficult horses have the most to teach us. Seems a lot like people .... I think I’m going to sign up …
I asked Nancy how she sees her business “leadership through horsemanship - applying horse-sense to people-sense”; I asked her ‘how’s business looking, going forward over the next quarter?’
… people are sensing a slowdown – as they juggle priorities, core business things vs. soft skills. It’s a long sales cycle, but the phone is ringing, just not as often. I’ve been doing this a long time – I have credibility and awareness.
And over the next five years?
... competition is showing up. The next five years is going to be the most enjoyable of all.
What qualities distinguish your preferred colleagues, collaborators and suppliers?
… relationships and trust. I don’t spend a lot of time shopping. Convenience. I’ve got a Costco 3.6 km. from my door, and I like that they pay their employees well …
What distinguishes you that causes people to choose Nancy Lowery and why do they do business with you, why have they hired you, over your competitors?
… because I present a good case for the work. I have the experience to make it work …
How would you describe your leadership or management style?
… I work on that all the time – trying to communicate better. People who help me deliver our priorities and help me be successful, but sometimes I’m ABSOLUTE control!
What do you lose sleep over, what do you worry about?
… am I good enough? I’m constantly trying to improve what I do.
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life, or that was a major turning point?
… I was really lucky to have my parents!
Work-life balance, do you have it?
… I work 24/7. I feel balanced.
… horses. I’ve got frozen croissants and a cappuccino machine … and I make the best coffee in Balzac.
What do you read?
… I like Daniel Pink’s stuff, and his style. Books on teaching. Quarter horse publications.
… 2003 Toyota Matrix and 2001 GMC 2500 Duramax Diesel.
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