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  • Matt Breton

Leadership Lessons From My Dog


I was walking the dog the other day, thinking about my involvement in some non-profit groups, as well as some issues at work. Nothing serious, just contemplating whatever is coming next, how to get people involved, where things are headed, and possible steps to get there.

Meanwhile, the dog wants to stop and sniff everything. When I stop, all of the sudden she decides it is time to move. Of course, we move in different directions. Firmly tugging on the leash, we start moving along together. Until I turn her around, because I have to go to work. Except she hasn't done her business, so we have to keep moving. Direction change again, more smelling, more stop and go, different directions.

My frustration level rises. She seems unaware. She is certainly unaware that I have to get to work and that her only job right now is to go to the bathroom!

I dream of a dog that can read my mind, who realizes that we do the SAME THING EVERY DAY. Unfortunately, this would be a robot. A dog has a mind and her own interests, her own reasons for doing what she is doing.

Daniel Pink identified that a lot of what helps people enjoy their work comes down to three things:

Autonomy

Mastery

Purpose

Though I can't communicate with my dog in a way that can convey some of these things, differences in her goals and mine are where our breakdown starts and my frustration begins. We are part of a team, yet our roles on the team are different, so when we are together we can come to crossed purposes. One of my roles is to keep her safe, which means she is leashed, which lessens her autonomy. One of her roles is to inspect the comings and goings of critters of all sorts around our property, something interrupted by my desire to walk continuously. I can't smell very well, she can, she's a master at it. Thinking long term? I may have a little mastery here- I know she needs to go to the bathroom now so she doesn't mess in the house later. I think you can see where this is going.

When it comes to working as part of a team, whether as a leader who supports teammates or as an individual team member, it is important to communicate the goals of the team, where it is headed, what roles we each play. When there is conflict or confusion, it is often a misunderstanding of purpose or desire for autonomy, rather than an outright attempt to undermine the team or question authority.

So, when walking the dog, I'm trying a little harder to not be reactive and selfish and understand the dog's perspective a bit more. We're on the same team, doing different jobs, with a different understanding of the goals of the moment and the long term plan. Communication is key for both of us to keep moving in the right direction...


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