Leadership Lessons from My Dog, Ranger

Leadership Lessons from My Dog, Ranger

IMG_0099Recently my wife and I adopted a wonderful shepherd mix puppy. For us, the decision was a serious commitment. We felt that this young life would be depending on us for a successful relationship in which both pup and people would be happy.

Ranger is the first dog either of us has ever owned. We had much to learn. We dove into research, watched countless videos online, read two books, and asked all of our dog owner friends and family for advice. We studied everything we could to prepare. The more I learned about being a good dog owner, the more I was reminded of leadership traits that also apply to everyday business life.

Consistency. A puppy needs consistency to live harmoniously in our human world. He has to know what the rules are. While he’s always eager to please, his natural puppy behavior drives him every day. His behavior won’t always please you if you don’t set the boundaries consistently. For example, don’t want your shoes chewed? Teach your pup what is an acceptable toy and what is not. Do you find begging at the dinner table annoying? Never, ever feed your pup from the dinner table. You can’t do things one way today and then violate the rules tomorrow. Your pup will be confused and you won’t like the results.

Have you ever had leadership that set direction one day only to abruptly reverse course soon afterwards? Consider this story.

I once worked for a company that would engage in a mad scramble every fourth quarter to establish the following year’s budget. They would then start the year with an executive off-site to get everyone jazzed about goals. Meanwhile department leaders would remain frozen in place pending budget approvals. Invariably, individual department budgets would come out late. By second quarter, budgets would be cut and goals would be undermined. This start-stop, herky-jerky environment would leave everyone’s head spinning due to inconsistent focus from the top. As leaders, we owe our subordinates consistent direction and focus on goals. It’s the only way to operate a business.

Trust. As we raise Ranger, we’ve made a few mistakes. Growing the bond with one’s dog is paramount. As a rescue pup, he’s a bit skittish and doesn’t trust easily since he’s been passed around all too often while in search of his forever home. We’ve had to work hard to gain his trust. One day, I was calling him in from the yard. He wouldn’t come. So I decided to lure him to me with some food and then quickly grabbed the scruff of his neck so I could bring him inside. Well, guess what. That hurt our bond. For a while, whenever I called him, he would run away even if I was offering food. I had tricked him and now he couldn’t trust me.IMG_6748

We have since repaired our bond of trust. I’ve learned to teach him through reward and positive reinforcement. He now routinely rolls on his back wanting belly rubs. This is a dog’s way of saying, “I’m putting myself in this vulnerable position because I trust you completely.”

Wouldn’t it be great to get the same out of your employees? No, I’m not talking about an employee wanting a belly rub. That would be weird. I also don’t recommend that you walk around the office offering any either. HR might have something to say about that.

What I’m saying is, wouldn’t it be great to have an employee trust you completely? You only get that kind of relationship if you never lie to your employees. You must also demonstrate the highest possible personal integrity at all times. Be a role model of virtue, and people will trust you.

Reward. Ranger is a working dog. Working dogs were bred for specific tasks. They need to be busy, are highly trainable, and are usually food motivated. Teaching Ranger commands is easy provided I offer treats every time he performs as required. With Ranger it’s simple. Sit and he gets a treat. Lay down, he gets a treat. Come when I call, again he gets a treat.

The concept behind rewarding employees is not too much different. The problem is, unlike Ranger, they don’t like kibble. You have to figure out what they do like. Money is only one obvious reward. For some, time off, public recognition, extra training, or heartfelt gratitude are much more highly valued. As a leader, you have to work to figure out the right reward for the right situation. Rewarding good performance is an area that every leader should focus on to get the best out of every subordinate.

Providing good leadership for a puppy is a big commitment. Providing good leadership for your employees at work is even bigger. How are you preparing for leadership? Have you read any books lately? Have you consulted a trusted mentor on how to improve your leadership skills? Whether you’re a new supervisor or an experienced one, dedicate yourself to learn all you can about leadership. Establish consistency. Cultivate trust. Reward excellence.

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