You Can Learn From Your Dog

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Another insightful look at leadership from my guest blogger, EJ Widun!

It is often said that a dog is man’s best friend. I believe it is true. Those of us who have pets forge an incredibly special and powerful bond.

Think about it…what’s not to love.

  • A pet gives you unconditional love.
  • A pet doesn’t care what went wrong or right, your pet loves you no matter what.
  • A pet will listen when you just need to talk.
  • A pet will be happy to just spend time around you and support you.

In our family, we have two dogs and they are truly special members of the family. We adore them and love them. They are always there with a tail wag and a smile. They are always ready to listen and offer unyielding support. No matter what has happened personally or professionally, our dogs are there to offer the perfect support.

Have you ever stopped to think if you, as a leader, display these same traits? Are you there for your team members no matter what happens?   Are you there to offer unconditional support?

As leaders, we may feel that we have to be right or have the answer to every situation. That is not true. Sometimes our team members just need our support and love. They need us to act like a pet to them. They don’t need to be told how to be better or what could have gone differently. Sometimes the team member just needs your ear and heart.

So after reading this, I hope that you can take a moment to appreciate your pets for all they do for you every day. I also hope that as you reflect on your relationship with your pets, you learn how to apply the lessons that they teach you into your leadership style.

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Cynical – Who Me?

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What happens when you show appreciation by making a good will gesture to your team members and they dismiss it, or worse express their displeasure with your grand gesture? Do you go tell them to pound sand? Or do you just let it go and move on with your life, wondering why you even bother?

I personally experienced this a couple of times with a group of people I was supervising. I thought it would be nice if I bought everyone lunch as a surprise. Thinking this might be a positive morale-boosting event, I brought in what I perceived to be a nice lunch only to have some of my team members complain about the choice of food, and point blank ask me why I opted for one type of food over another. My first instinct was to ask why they were complaining about something free which was definitely better than what was being served in the employee cafeteria! Fortunately, I was able to hold my tongue and not say what I was thinking. I answered their questions politely and asked what type of food they really liked (so if I chose to ever do this again, I certainly would not get it wrong!) This scenario really angered me, as I was brought up old-school where you thanked the person for their thoughtfulness, took what was given to you and kept your mouth shut. This definitely made me think twice about doing something nice for my staff, which I considered to be sad.

How do you keep from becoming jaded by your team members? There is that old saying about one bad apple spoiling the whole bunch. What happens when you have a couple of bad apples that just are not satisfied with anything that you do for them?

A Noisy World

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It is hard to escape all of the noise that exists around us. There is the noise you actually hear, such as barking dogs and loud children (something that is heard quite often in my home.) Or the noise you do not hear – all of the outside influences, such as social media, other people, or the many things that roll around inside your brain on a daily basis.

When we talk about a noisy world, I personally believe the internal noise that we deal with is far more difficult to process than noise that is obvious. I know this seems like a confusing idea, but let me put it into perspective for you.

I am a writer, when I sit down to write a blog, story, or article, I prefer to have quiet so I can think and hopefully string together a couple of intelligent thoughts. Sometimes it works, other times, not so much! Can I work if the house is noisy? Of course I can, it just makes it a bit more difficult to concentrate, but not impossible. On the other hand, I can be sitting in a quiet room working on a story, but cannot focus due to all of the “noise” going on inside my head. The list of everything I need to work on, the kids’ schedules, does this blog really make sense, did I forget to pick up the dry-cleaning; what on earth am I going to make for dinner…. dare I even mention the crazy stuff on Twitter? See how difficult it can be to think about the actual work at hand when we cannot clear our minds to focus?

This scenario can be challenging for a leader. You are tasked with leading a group or an organization when there are so many things that can and usually happen in a day creating unnecessary diversions in our paths. Keep in mind that I am not referring to interruptions from your team members or colleagues. Speaking with a team member about an issue should never be considered “noise” in my opinion. If someone is concerned enough to seek out your assistance, calling their concerns noise will not do much to solidify your position as a leader.   The type of noise I am referring to is the type that you can allow to overtake your brain, or you can squash it like a bug. Understanding that internal noise exists and getting rid of it can be a challenge. For some, it is getting up and taking a walk to step away from the noise for a moment. For me, I have personally found that jotting down notes on my writing ideas on paper helps keep me on track. For some reason, once I write something down the old-fashioned way, it puts my thoughts back in order. How do you block out all of the “noise” to effectively lead?

Yes Captain

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The other night I was watching the show “Deadliest Catch” on the Discovery Channel.  (For those of you who haven’t seen it, it is a fascinating look at those who fish for Alaskan King Crab.)  I began to think about how leadership exists in professions such as fishing.  It is clearly a top-down leadership hierarchy – one person in charge and the others follow orders. It is pretty obvious that the captain is in charge, and no one questions the decisions made (or if they choose to do so, it makes for interesting television!)

I have written before about leadership and title. I do have a strong belief that anyone has the potential to become a leader, regardless of his or her title. What about professions such as the military or operating a ship? A single person gives orders and the others are responsible for carrying them out, no questions asked. Does this leadership style impact the way in which a leader thinks about motivation? If someone knows that their orders will be followed regardless how they interact with their crew, does motivation really matter?  What do you think?

Fake It ‘Till You Make It

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Many have uttered this phrase when times get tough. There are times in our lives when we just aren’t sure how to keep moving forward when things are going to hell around us. This can be especially true in leadership. How often have you had one of those days when nothing is going right and you just want to yell at someone but you don’t, because as I have often told my 3 year old, throwing a tantrum and yelling at someone is no way to go through life!

In these instances, do we just paste a smiley face on and go with the flow? I have previously written about not panicking unless there is a really good reason to do so; but what about a day when your mojo is just off and you don’t feel like jumping up and saying yeah! It is really surprising how the mood of one person can impact the rest of the team. I once had a team member who was an extremely happy and positive person, someone who had a gift for putting the most miserable person in a good mood. Once, this person had a very bad day and her positive personality disappeared. The mood of the entire group mirrored her and soon, I had a group of nasty, whiny, complainers. This made me contemplate the way in which I approached a bad day. Knowing that others would follow my lead, I tried to be conscious of how I interacted with everyone.  If I could curtail my annoyance, no one would suspect I was having a bad day. I guess in a way I was faking it – pretending that all was well in order to preserve the positive attitude of everyone around me. In the end, this exercise actually helped me turn my negative mood around, just by acting positive I was able to block out the negative thoughts in my head.

How do you respond as a leader when dealing with a bad day? Do you fake it till you make it?

Trust

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Trust – a simple word that emits strong emotions in many different ways. Why does the word “trust” forge such powerful feelings? We place our trust in many people day after day, from the school bus driver who takes our children to school to the doctor treating our illnesses. We talk about those we implicitly trust, and lash out at those we do not. Put together the word “trust” and politician and see what reaction you will get!

At the core of every interpersonal relationship is trust. It is the foundation from which we build our families, our friends, and our organizations. A strong sense of trust is needed to keep everyone moving forward toward a common goal regardless if it is a personal or professional relationship.

What happens when your trust in someone is damaged? If it is a casual acquaintance, it is pretty easy to avoid that person, in essence cutting off the relationship. Losing trust in a family member or close friend can be very difficult, but many people are more apt to try and repair the relationship since it may involve someone that you care deeply about and want as part of your life.

Losing trust in your leader creates a whole different set of challenges. Since you are gainfully employed, it is difficult to avoid contact with your leader on a day-to-day basis. And most people do not consider their leaders someone whom they are in love with or have deep feelings for (and if they do, that is a whole different issue!)

When leadership is not trusted, a team member may start to believe the common goal of the organization might just be a leader’s personal agenda, even if it is not. If a team member feels they cannot trust their leader, they feel as if they are out there on their own with no one to back them up.

Is it possible to regain trust of your leader once that trust has been violated?

 

 

A Disaster or an Opportunity

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I have always been fascinated by the way an organization describes a mistake. Some come right out and say, “Yes, we messed up and we accept responsibility for what happened.” Others play the blame game and try to pass off their mistakes on others. Regardless of where the blame is placed, the one thing that strikes me as interesting is how an organization puts the opportunity spin on it.

The opportunity spin is something that challenges us to think about issues in a different light. Mistakes are made and how we react to them can determine how we appear to the rest of the world. What do you think about an organization that states an issue is a great opportunity to learn and make changes? Sounds much better than telling the public that they screwed up and don’t have a clue what should be done next.

In addition to changing the way the public views your organization, turning a disaster into an opportunity will also put a different spin on a situation for your team. When everyone is running around wringing his or her hands in despair because they messed up, this creates chaos and doesn’t do much to address an issue. Something as simple as a word choice of “opportunity” can take a little of the fear out of a situation and drive everyone toward a positive result.

Do you see a disaster as an opportunity for future success or just a disaster?