What can leaders learn from dogs barking at a postal carrier?

I had the great pleasure of running one of our Leadership Coaching Programs in Toronto last month.  Sunshine; great location; good company – what more could I want?

I was staying with our friends and colleagues, Cyndi and Ross, who have two delightful Golden Labradors. This has to be one of the friendliest breeds of dog. They love being around people, and are very enthusiastic and expressive.

Golden Labradors were once used to retrieve game such as waterfowl. Nowadays, they can be used as therapy dogs or for search and rescue, because of their gentle nature and ability to learn. They don’t make great guard dogs because they’re so sociable.

However, all this seems to go out of the window when the mail is delivered. Every morning the postal carrier would walk up the path, the dogs would start barking; he’d deliver the mail and then go away.

Ross is an expert in canine behaviour and trains therapy dogs.  I asked him why they didn’t learn that there was no point in this activity. I thought they were meant to be intelligent.

“Oh no,” he said “they are intelligent – they think the guy delivering the mail is the stupid one. Every day this guy comes to the door and every day they bark at him, and succeed in chasing him away. Why is he so stupid as to keep coming back only to run away again every day? Hasn’t he learnt that they will just keep barking at him?”

It made me think about the leaders we work with.  The way they convey their messages, and the way those messages are received.

Just because our teams are behaving in a particular way, it doesn’t mean they’ve got the same message that we were barking at them.

Not only do we have to do get the message right and convey it correctly.  We really have to be sure that they’ve understood.

But it doesn’t just stop there. Have we really got their buy-in?

There’s three steps.

  1. Acceptance; your team accept that they have to do what you are telling them.
  2. Agreement; they also agree that it’s the right thing to do.

But we are still not there –

  1. Where we want to get to is Alignment;
    1. they’ll do it
    2. they know it’s the right thing to do
    3. and they are totally aligned with, and bought into, the value of doing it.

Alignment means your team want to do it and they feel that they are a part of it.

When we coach and train leaders, using our accredited leadership coach training approach, we spend a lot of time supporting leaders to create their own vision. Once they have that compelling vision, and can clearly articulate it, they are far more likely to enrol others into their cause.

Then, the leader who takes a coach approach – by which we mean inspiring, involving, listening, consulting with them – to working with his or her people, will really have them engaged.

We know the power of employee engagement. It leads to higher productivity, higher profitability, better employee retention, improved customer satisfaction and a host of other improvements for your organisation.  It’s great for you as a leader too – barking all day is tiring work.

In September, we’ll be running a series of events on engagement. We’d love you to join in this debate.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *