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John Milsom

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Talons Management

Maverick Eagles and Collaborative Hawks

Wickland Westcott recently ran a workshop with a difference – the participants included Finch, Bolt, Walter and Aaron, all live birds of prey! Social enterprise group Hack Back use birds of prey to assist in the development of emotional intelligence in corporate leaders of all levels, drawing on the relationship between falconers and their birds to demonstrate and develop key capabilities including self awareness and regard for others.

Psychologist and Director of Hack Back Anita Morris explained that birds of prey pick up signals from the body language, tone of voice and behaviour of their handlers. Each bird is different, and its performance as a hunter depends on its motivation as much as ability. Falconers therefore need to understand the best way of working with each bird. Anita explained to delegates: “There’s no point in getting angry with an eagle if it isn’t doing what you want it to do – the birds pick up on signals and will know something is wrong but they won’t understand what”. Learning to control the communication of negative emotions is therefore crucial to an individual’s ability to handle birds of prey, as of course it is in managing people.

Participants had the opportunity to handle Finch, a Harris Hawk of central American origin, and one of the most intelligent types of bird of prey in the world. Harris Hawks are the only birds to hunt in groups and work as a team. The more experienced birds take the lead and mentor younger birds by demonstrating and then standing back. This led to discussions around the way teams form and communicate, and it emerged that teams of Harris Hawks communicate exclusively through non-verbal dialogue combined with a clear definition of each bird’s role in the hunt.

During the session the characteristics of different birds were also explored, with particular interest in the attributes of eagles. Eagles are the most emotional birds of prey. They are big, powerful, moody and suit themselves. Like high performers within organisations, eagles are mavericks who like to perform yet can take very individual handling. Although most eagles will be more comfortable working with a specific falconer, attributes such as emotional balance, confidence and consistency need to be learnt by falconers so that they can manage a range of different birds when necessary. Anita explained that for these reasons she often uses eagles when coaching leaders on how to manage difficult people whom they don’t really know. These sessions focus on helping participants behave predictably and operate consistently in order to build a trusting relationship with their eagles. This is a powerful way of helping leaders develop the ability to communicate with others in a way that is tailored for different individuals, rather than being driven by the leader’s own objectives.

So, a fascinating and stimulating event. Wickland Westcott would like to thank Anita Morris from Hack Back, and the team from Cheshire Falconry Centre for their assistance in running the session. Wickland Westcott’s Talent Management group is run as a networking and thought leadership forum for talent professionals. For more information on the group, or the ideas described above, contact John Milsom, Head of Talent – North.

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