Leading....Doggie Style

April 30, 2015

Okay, now that I have your attention let me tell you why I think every aspiring leader should attend Dog Obedience training.  Well, what did you think this post was about?

 

Late last year, my husband and I decided to expand our family.  Enter Maggie.  The gorgeous girl pictured here was the Labradoodle I fell in love with. I knew as soon as I saw her she would be ours.  She had a certain boldness about her as she roamed around with the many other dogs living at the breeder’s house.

 

Fast forward a few weeks and I realized that boldness could quickly become problematic in a house with two smallish boys, whom she clearly viewed as other puppies.  So, I did what every first time dog owner should do and signed up for Obedience training.  I had no idea what to expect but knew when to admit that I needed help.

 

What I quickly realized is that Obedience school is not so much about training the dog as it is about teaching the dog owner.  With each class I was learning skills to interact effectively with Maggie, and progress came quickly thanks to Linda and Rob – dog trainers extraordinaire.  And throughout the sessions, I couldn’t help thinking how these skills were exactly what every leader needs to develop whether in business, in the community or in a household.

 

To prove the point, let me share their guiding principals:  C.A.L.M. – a poster in the training room serves as a constant reminder of these golden rules.

 

Confident (rehearse, prepare in advance).  A dog knows when you lack confidence and will not respect its owner.  Respect is key!  For a new dog owner like me, confidence didn’t always come easy.  We were taught that if you prepare for your training sessions well – for example ensure you have your treats in a place where you can easily access them, know which hand will hold the leash and which will give the rewards and practice in advance – you will feel confident and have greater success.

 

That kind of confidence is also critical in business, in a hospital or in a courtroom. Not arrogance.  Just a quiet confidence that says “I’ve got this”, I have a vision and a strategy to get us there.  Just like in dog training, confidence can be gained by rehearsing and preparation.  Through preparation messages are clear and concise, meetings are effective and have purpose, and difficult conversations lead to good outcomes.  When I think back to situations where I felt extremely confident in the corporate world, it was when I was well prepared. I knew all the facts, I anticipated the difficult questions, I had socialized critical recommendations with key constituents, and I knew my audience.  And of course the inverse was also true – when I lacked confidence it was typically because I hadn’t spent enough time preparing.

 

Assertive (body language, clear and concise).  For some dog owners in my class, assertiveness was a hard trait to master.  No wonder - puppies are cute and some so tiny that your voice seemed to automatically go into baby talk mode: “oh, who’s the cute widdle puppy?”  Linda and Rob taught the importance of tone. “Sit” spoken in a low tone, loud enough to be easily heard was much more effective than “sit?” in barely a whisper with a high tone that lifts at the end making the dog wonder if you really meant it or it was merely a suggestion.  I noticed in class, as I have noticed in business that this can be particularly difficult for women.  Many women have to often work harder on completing a sentence without the lilt that can confuse a strong statement for a question.

 

In addition we were coached to keep our commands concise.  Imagine how much more effective “Maggie, come” is than “Maggie, would you please make your way over here to me?”  Isn’t it far too often the case in business (and elsewhere) that too many words are used when fewer would bring greater clarity?  Editing oneself is a powerful skill in many aspects of life.

 

Body language is equally important in dog training as it is in leadership.  Dogs read posture, effective use of gestures and eye contact as well as people I am now convinced.  Standing straight and tall, using gestures to reinforce your message and eye contact to truly connect are vital skills in dog training and in leadership.

 

Leader (teacher and communicator).  Linda once said in class that dogs have two states – sleeping and learning.  The same certainly holds for teams, they are always learning and always looking to their leader to set clear expectations, show them the way and lead by example.

 

Motivator (consistent and fair).  Most dog trainers these days advocate for positive rewards in training dogs, not punishment.  I couldn’t agree more and this certainly applies in life and business as well.  Just like dogs, the people who look up to us are much more motivated by an “atta-boy” then a reprimand.  Maggie will do just about anything for a belly rub or a tasty treat.  It’s pretty simple to figure out what motivates your dog…people can be trickier.  There is however an easy way to find out what motivates your team member or colleagues – ask them!  That being said, there are times you need to “correct” your dog.  A gentle tug on the leash reminds them not to pull.  A simple “agh, agh” tells them it’s not acceptable to jump up on a visitor.  Everyone gets off track occasionally and a gentle reminder can get people back on track as quickly as dogs.

 

The concept of fairness also applies equally in dog training and in leading teams.  It’s unfair to expect that your young puppy won’t pee on the floor if you haven’t let him out all day.  Just as it’s unfair to hold staff accountable if they clearly did not have the tools to succeed.

 

So, after 8 weeks of Monday night obedience class I learned a great deal about how to get the lovely Maggie to behave and I was also reminded of some key leadership skills.  Maggie still pulls on her leash a bit, so let’s just say we’re a work in progress…but aren’t we all?

 

Ps.  If you are in need of a dog trainer in the Mississauga/Oakville, Ontario area you will not find better than Linda and Rob at Trimark Canine Services (www.trimarkcanineservices.ca).  And you might just become a better leader while you’re there!

 

 

 

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