Training Lessons From A Ridgeback
Our family has a dog just over a year old.
A beautiful dog. A smart dog. A lovable dog.
A stubborn dog!!
Akiza is a Ridgeback, a breed I’ve never heard of until we acquired her. A great dog that has a blend of her own unique personality as well as the temperament of her breed. And she has tested my skills as a dog owner to the limits. Skills that relate to how we lead individuals and teams.
How do our employees test our leadership skills? Do we struggle with them because they are a challenge, or have we not looked deep within ourselves to see where we need to grow to lead them more positively?
My dog has taught me a lot about myself and my ability (or lack thereof!!) to train and lead. What we can learn from a Ridgeback:
Communication. Believe it or not, Akiza does not speak my language. She doesn’t understand anything other than a simple command at best. As leaders we have to find the common ground to communicate. Industry jargon, foreign languages, and figurative meanings get in the way of communication. Find what others respond to and build from there.
Patience. This is probably the toughest of all. I find little patience housebreaking her when it’s below zero out or I have other things I need to tend to. Yet that does not help her. When training, undivided attention is key in order it to be effective and for the recipient to learn. If they feel your patience run thin, they will feel intimidated and/or that they are a nuisance in the system.
Consistency. Dogs learn best by a consistent trainer. Giving Akiza the same “Come!” command when I pat my leg tells her I want her to follow me. If I put up my hand in a stop motion but say “Come!”, she will hesitate and look at me with confusion at my mixed signal. If I continue to give other hand gestures, she will not trust what I’m saying and not come over at all. If we give our staff mixed signals – both verbal and non-verbal – we render all our efforts surrounding those action unproductive and the trust we give starts to falter.
Adapt Methods for Success. It took quite some time to get her housebroken, People told us that the process is not so much training the dog as it is training the human. It took many different methods to find what was effective for her. As leaders we need not to do the same cookie-cutter training for everyone. Each person learns differently. We must adapt and find the best methods and strategies to lead great performance. Our approach is always the key.
Look to Change Yourself First. I went through a role metamorphosis of sorts here. From provider to master to servant to trainer/leader, I had to look at my attitudes and how I saw our relationship. When I realized that my duty was to help her along in her behavioral growth, it became more of a team effort with us working together instead of two personalities pitted against one another.
Praise & Recognition. Akiza loves her bacon treats. While she voraciously snatches them from my hand, it’s only an instinctive response. When I tell her “Good girl!” and pet her and scratch her belly, she responds with her whole self. Eyes light up, body wiggles, tail wags – that praise connects to her entire self. We cannot do this enough to our people. Money, promotions, awards are great, but a heartfelt thanks and sincere recognition carry further weight than material things. Sometimes for a lifetime.
Please understand this in the right context, our employees are not dogs. People are the highest value in all of creation. Yet how many leaders, and us inadvertently, treat our staff the same way, or even worse, than our beloved pets?
Build and treat your people as the great gift that they are in your life.