Wednesday April 1, 2009
Jodi Goldman - Communications Manager
All I need to know about leadership I learnt from my dog.
I have recently become an absolute fan of 'The Dog Whisperer'. Cesar Millan, the dynamic Mexican who has taken America by storm and captured the hearts of dog lovers everywhere, has me fascinated. He is amazing. A true rags to riches story, starting with an illegal entry into America, followed by hard work, following his heart, his passion, making connections, persevering, doing a great job, and eventually making his way to the top (in American terms this means he was on the Oprah Winfrey show and worked with her beloved pets too - it doesn't get any higher than that).
Here is why I find him so interesting and why I think it's important for you: firstly, he is so charismatic. So direct. And honest. And so good at what he does; it's truly inspiring to watch someone doing what they are passionate about. And second, is his philosophy itself. Now, I know it's about dogs, and you might be wondering why I am talking about this here. His philosophy relates so much to us too, and management: no one understand the value of a leader or the responsibility of being a leader - like the leader of a 'pack' of dogs. No one understands the value of knowing your place within a 'pack' and how your actions affect the others in it, like a dog.
Many people clearly don't, which is why there are so many messed up 'dogs' in our society - and so few truly inspiring leaders.
1. The idea of calm, assertive energy.
Cesar's most important tip is showing you are the leader; the dominant 'dog' in the pack. And the way to do this is with calm, assertive energy. Being dominant is not about aggression; it's about keeping things under control. I thought about this, and I realised its not just dogs that respond to this kind of energy. People do too, think of all the best leaders. The ones who command, not demand, authority. They are calm under pressure. They don't lose their temper. They have a plan. They are not easily ruffled. One of our friends and clients; Danny Meyer from Union Square Hospitality Group in New York calls this style of leadership 'constant, gentle, pressure' in his New York Times best selling business book 'Setting the Table'.
If you show your dog you are afraid, it will feel the fear. And people are the same. If the leader is panicking, chances are there will be some pretty insecure and rattled employees.
2. The importance of exercise.
In order for dogs to be able to listen, obey, respond, behave - they need to be stimulated and release their excess energy. Are people the same? How much better do you function, respond, sleep, work when you have started the day with some exercise? It releases positive hormones and it uses the pent up energy that if not released in this positive way causes people to overreact, lose their tempers, and become stressed out. When the human race evolved, adrenaline was released into the bloodstream when it was triggered by a wild animal attack, or came to the fore when someone was about to hunt down a wild animal - i.e. adrenaline would lead to physical energy being released (either running toward, or running away!). Today, when adrenaline is released it's usually because of anger (road rage and so on) or excitement (making a big deal) but there is no release of the energy - people become stressed, get mad - but stay seated, and excess energy builds up in our systems.
This is about knowing the rules. It's about knowing the boundaries, and the limitations. We shouldn't have to resort to disciplinary hearings, because any negative behaviour should be addressed or 'corrected' as soon as it happens. That's how Cesar recommends training dogs, as the dog does the unwanted behaviour you correct it. You don't wait to see if it will be better next time, you don't wait until its happened a few times and then try and tackle it. As it happens is the best way to deal with it. People aren't confused then. They know what is acceptable. It's very confusing to be allowed to do something sometimes, and suddenly be called up about it. And this way it's a small correction, and does not become a very big deal. (This is also about leading by example. The pack leader behaves in the way he/she expects from the others. They take their cue from the dominant dog. It's the same for people. Don't expect that with a 'do what I say and not what I do' philosophy, things will always be done as you want.)
Rewarding positive behaviour and positive results is very important: praise, treats, and outings. This works for dogs, and hey, it's exactly the same for us. (Except maybe leaders should refrain from handing out a pat on the head or scratch under the chin!). Cesar points out the importance of praising at the right time, when your dog is behaving in the right way; when it is being calm, when it is doing what it should. Don't give affection when it's scared, or insecure, or misbehaving. I cant help but think this would be a more productive way of giving praise at work too - affection is things like, positive feedback, bonuses, parties, etc. Before the point your people are demanding more money, or go so long without praise that they start to feel undervalued, and then 'ask' for it. Rather make sure they are getting enough at the right times. This 'affection' can take many forms, so be creative. Its not always just about money (in the dogs' case, food)!
That's the foundation course in being leader of the pack.
Things that I have learnt from dogs that would help become a great pack member (employee):
- Live in the moment
- Don't be scared to show your enthusiasm
- Defend your territory - show pride in where you work and the people you work with
- Respect your leaders. It's a hard job being responsible for the whole pack
Learnpurple offers fantastic courses on leadership, managing and motivating and management for beginners. Dog biscuits not included.