Leadership lessons from dog training
You might be surprised by how much dog training can teach us about management!
We have two young Border Collies we are currently training. I am struck once again, by how many of the principles of dog training translate to managing and working with people. (this is not about manipulation but about engaging in a meaningful way to bring the best out in colleagues and direct reports).
Here are the top ten:
- Positive Feedback-The behaviour you pay attention to and reward is the behaviour you reinforce.
- Clear instructions and expectations-Be sure the dog is clear about what you want. If you want to dog to go on to his mat, be sure you ‘click’ or ‘reward’ the minute his foot hits the mat, rather than wait til he sits. Otherwise, he’ll think sitting is what you are looking for.
- Follow correction with guidance-When a dog is doing something you don’t want them to to, tell them in a non aggressive manner and show them what they need to do to ‘do it right’.
- Show staff genuine pathways to progression-A bored dog is a dog that gets into mischief. Use the energy to give the dog more challenges.
- Accept that full team harmony may not always be possible-Not every dog is going to play happily with all other dogs. At best, look for the ability to be in each other’s presence with civility and the ability of each dog to go through the class paying full attention.
- Use positive feedback effectively to avoid ‘approval depdance-Fade the reward. In the beginning while learning, reward (eg praise, feed) at each attempt, and when the behaviour is entrenched, only reward sporadically.
- Don’t rely only on your authority-that will lead to compliance not cooperation –In The old school method is a very rigid one of ‘no’ to everything the dog does wrong. Commands like ‘heel’ for walking in military style next to the owner, with no chance to sniff or explore-eg at work this means innovate, accompany the frequent ‘no’ command. This makes the relationship one where the dog can fear the owner, neurotically trying to figure out what they are supposed to do so they don’t get yelled at again. The alternative? Remember this is a relationship I am the leader and my dogs have boundaries and are working on being good citizens, but in the process, I am building a relationship with them. I direct them to what they should be doing, ‘coaching’ them along the way. This means they respond to me happily, come when called (most times!) and aren’t living in fear.
- The fun factor (within reason) is important at work-Learning and work can be fun. There of course needs to be limits to this, but learning and work doesn’t always have to be fully serious- and a bit of a laugh at times can break up the tension and build relationships. This pays dividends in times of stress. For dogs and people!
- Utilise staff expertise in their roles- Understand what your breed was born to do. A Border Collie needs a job to do and a big, active one at that. A small terrier may be very happy at home with the occasional walk.
- Walk your talk and live the values you espouse Be consistent. If something is out of bounds to a dog, it should be out of bounds at all times, not just when you have the energy to address the crossed boundary.
Weekly I talk to people who are working in organisations where many of these simple and obvious principles are not being practiced. It doesn’t take much and I’m not implying you cater to whims of people or don’t hold them accountable. But take the effort to find out where they’d like to be in the future or what would make their job even better. Most of the time, it is surprising how small and ‘doable’ the requests are!
And a big nod to those managers practicing the above. I hear about you, too- there are many of you!- and your organisations’ results and reputation as an employer of choice speak volumes.
Do you have any other dog training tips for managers to add?