Leadership Lessons from Dog Training

Blog 2021-05-11 photo

Have you ever been told NOT to do something, and that made you want to do it even more? There is a reason for that: Where you focus your attention is also where you maintain attention. Telling someone NOT to do something literally engages their mind towards the very thing you don’t want them to do.

This past weekend, I listened as my husband instructed our dog, “Don’t jump [in the pool]!” but all Snowball (selectively) hears is, “…jump!”. Then, splash…there she goes into the pool. Since we had gone to dog training together, I immediately remind him (as good wives like to do, lol), “Honey, remember to tell her what TO do, not what to NOT do.” So, after Snowball surfaces from the water, Perry then tells her, “Stay” and she stays. Amazing!

For years, I have worked with this principle as I’ve helped develop organizations and build leadership capacity. The main premise is: Focus on what’s wanted, as opposed to what’s to be avoided.

I’ve witnessed some major misses in business when management had people focus on the very things they didn’t want.  For example: employee attrition, avoiding bias, reducing costs. By simply replacing guidance with language about what is wanted—retention, inclusion, innovation —organizations have multiplied their success.

Because leadership is about responsibly guiding and inspiring people towards something that’s wanted, the practice holds great potential for achieving whatever it sets out to do. It’s vital to resist any urges to correct people, “No, don’t <fill in the blank>!”; instead, focus people on what is wanted.

Now, don’t forget this…wait, I mean please remember.

This Week’s Challenge: Consider how you engage others when communicating as a leader. Are you often trying to point people away from what NOT to do? Try pausing before reacting to what’s going on around you. Consider what you wish were happening instead. Then, ask for that. It can be that simple.

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