Saturday, September 06, 2008

Leash-Pulling In the Workplace: How The Great Manager Changes Behavior

A good friend and colleague, Dave Riveness, sent along this website today: www.ted.com/index.php/talks/ian_dunbar_on_dog_friendly_dog_training.html

It is a talk by one of the world's premier dog trainers. Speaking at a 2007 conference, Ian Dunbar asks us to see the world through the eyes of our dogs. By knowing our pets' perspective, we can build their love and trust.

It's a message that resonates well beyond the animal world. Indeed, as I think about training managers and employees, we seem to make the same mistakes most of us do with our animals. Most managers have learned from experience to highlight their employees' mistakes as a way to prevent future errors. In some cases, it takes the form of mean-spirited criticism. In other cases, the employee is simply ignored or left out in order to inflict enough pain to insure that whatever went wrong doesn't go wrong again.

As with dogs, this method of managing sounds somehow right, or at least common, but it simply doesn't work.

Let's consider for a moment what Ian's recommendations are to teach your dog to follow you off-leash and, as we do so, consider how these suggestions apply in the all-human world of work where we want to teach our employees to follow us and be good leaders stewards of those for whom we have accepted responsibility.

- Your dog's desire to follow and remain close is the necessary foundation for walking politely on-leash.

In human terms, it means the employee must want to follow you. Yelling, belittling, ignoring, and the panoply of negative behaviors we see in the workplace only insure that employees do not want to follow, do not want to stay, and will leave at the first opportunity.

- You need to stimulate and strengthen your dog's gravitational attraction towards you by moving away enticingly and heartily praising your dog all the time he follows.

How does this translate? Perhaps it means that just as you give your dog plenty of lead, you do the same with your employees. Don't drag them -- but move away -- see what they can do, and when they do the right thing, praise them liberally.

Proceed with a happy heart and a sunny disposition: talk to your dog, tell him stories, whistle, walk with a jaunty step, or even skip and sing.

This translates into managers and supervisors who are, by nature, happy people. I have yet to find a good leader of people who is angry most of the time. Rather, they assign work the meaning it deserves, but no more. They accept mistakes as being the natural order of things, the way we all learn, and they pass down the culture they wish to inculcate in their workplaces through anecdotes, through stories. Their employees like to be around them.

Do not accommodate your dog's improvisations; you are the leader, not the dog. Whenever your dog attempts to lead you, accentuate his "mistake" by doing the opposite. Stretch the psychic bungee cord: if your dog forges ahead, slow down or smartly turn around; if your dog lags behind, speed up; if your dog goes right, turn left; and if your dog goes left, turn right.

In human terms, the good manager, while pleasant, doesn't forget that he or she is the leader. While they provide plenty of lead to their employees, they are not led by them. They do not ignore poor performance. Instead, they lead by example, by demonstrating excellence. They are slow to anger, quick to praise, and always alert for opportunities to lead by example.

And, yes, we all understand that our employees are not animals. But, we are all beings who seek approval, validation, care, compassion, and concern. And so as it works with your beloved pet so it will work with your charges in the workplace.

Review the video above. I will be interested in your comments which you can add at the bottom of this post. And, you may also want to check out Dave's website: http://www.corporatejester.com . It's all about seeing our blind spots as managers. Dave and I will be working together on several programs into 2009: http://www.sanmiguelleadershipinstitute.com/

Lots to learn and so I will leash up Max, my German Shepherd, and slowly, happily, teach him to follow rather than try and rip my left arm off as we make our daily walk into town.

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1 Comments:

Anonymous Ben Simonton said...

We can learn a lot from dogs, Jim. I particularly liked the story of how to handle sled dogs in order to gain the highest performance related in the book "Breaking the Mould" by Peter Hunter.

For myself, having managed people for over 30 years, I made all the errors one can make, but finally arrived at their solutions and a state of management nirvana. I learned what leadership really is and how to "lead" people to unleash their full potential of creativity, innovation, productivity, motivation and commitment on their work while literally loving to come to work.

To better understand the right and wrong ways to manage people, please read the article "Leadership, Good or Bad"

Best regards, Ben
Author "Leading People to be Highly Motivated and Committed"

8:01 AM  

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