Leading the Pack

132 Relax and Succeed - The problem is not the problemBecause we drive and wear clothes, people generally pretend that we’re no longer animals and yet our instincts all come from the same origins. After food and shelter, the comfort of our pack is our primary concern. We are able to survive without the pack, but not in a healthy way. We are designed to function as a group, so any extended separation or estrangement will generally debilitate us.

Modern packs come in many forms. There is the family, there are classrooms or cliques of students in school, there are our sports or activity friendships, our social circle, and of course there is the dog-team of the workplace. Some—like our activity or social friendships—are voluntary. We decide who we want in and who we want out. Others, like family or work, are not under our control and we must adapt to our imposed pack-mates.

132 Relax and Succeed - You've got to changeIn each of these situations a natural or imposed hierarchy will exist. Maybe it’s the Mom or Dad at the top of the family, with the kids being ordered variously by age, strength, intelligence, and confidence. Or maybe it’s with friends, where the order is determined more like a pack of wild animals—where the choice for leader is an unconscious consensus between the people who naturally step forward to lead, and those who would prefer not to have that responsibility themselves. But in every other realm of life the leader is imposed. This is challenging, because if that assigned leader does not naturally gain the Confidence of the pack, then that pack will become dysfunctional both socially and in terms of its ability to successfully hunt.

Where this often becomes the most challenging is situations where the leader is new. The new manager will begin by giving their staff the sort of management they wished for or admired while they were still an underling. But that only helps people with personalities very similar to the manager’s. Better leaders will realise that each pack member is unique and that what works on one won’t work on another. If the leader fails to have this realisation, then they will attempt to run everyone like they’re one person and they will vainly attempt to maximise everyone’s strengths but in every single pack member.

Human packs in business will have greyhounds that can sprint and huskies that can carry heavy loads for long distances. They will have wiener dogs that can dig well and that are designed to hunt in very confined spaces, and they have hounds that can follow a scent for days. The weakest leaders will fail to notice these differences and they will often angrily demand that each dog have every strength.

131-relax-and-succeed-i-think-the-secret-of-successYou cannot ask the short-legged dachshund to have the advantages of the long distance husky, and then on top of that you want the husky to go down a tiny hole in the ground where it doesn’t even fit. It’s also unwise to want the greyhound to still run like the wind, but still follow a scent. That isn’t the dog failing, that’s the manager failing and with each admonishment the pack will get weaker because the animals will feel like they’re failing when in fact they are simply being lead in the wrong direction.

Yelling at or harshly criticising an animal will not increase its performance, it will decrease it. An animal does not run toward things that look dangerous or unpleasant. An unhealthy pack will fearfully fumble along with only half of its attention on hunting because the other half will be focused on trying to keep themselves safe from being attacked by their own pack-leader.

People don’t leave meetings where they just got yelled at and say to each other, “Yeah, we’re really dumb and lazy and awful—let’s do better!” No, they head straight to the water cooler to waste time discussing how poor a leader they have.

132 Relax and Succeed - Promote what you loveLife and school and business will have natural ups and downs. There is nothing in this world that isn’t like that, so if a leader is disappointed by anything other than significant success then they are living in a fantasy world and they are only a leader in name. True leadership knows that off-days are inevitable and they know to show up with love and support when things are bad. That is when that support is most useful. But if the hunting was bad and all the dogs are tired and starving, biting them to run faster will only serve to make tomorrow’s hunt even worse.

The best leaders are loved and trusted for their consistency. Both good news and bad news is met with the same quiet confidence. And a good plan doesn’t change based on short-term results, because even the best plans don’t guarantee perfect performance. If the pack is getting attacked any time things aren’t perfect then it will almost always be under some form of attack, and it will under-perform simply because too much of its energy is wasted on disappointment and fear.

If you’re seeking success and you think punishing people is an effective means of getting them to do things differently then you simply do not understand how people (or animals) work. If a dog gets beaten every time it can’t live up to the achievements of a completely different kind of dog on a different kind of day, then that will be one nervous and ineffective pup because too much of its attention will be focused on not getting beaten.

132 Relax and Succeed - Strong people don't put others downIf that same dog gets rewarded for its unique skills and good behaviours, those will expand. The dog will literally ask for opportunities to succeed. So yes, a wiener dog will struggle with running long distances. But at the same time, it will feel entirely comfortable crawling down dark holes. So each member of the pack must be approached as an individual and managed according to their strengths, not their weaknesses. Because no amount of barking or biting will turn a chihuahua into a pit bull.

If you’re in a position of leadership, stop telling your pack how to be successful and start asking them how you can support them in being successful, because the leader isn’t supposed to turn the dogs into each other. The good leader figures out what each dog’s strength is, and then it applies those strengths appropriately.

If your staff or your children see you approaching and their response is fear, then you are failing at maximising their potential. However, if they see you approaching and they feel secure and cared-for, then you will be maximising their potential and you will have 100% of it available for the hunt. And that is the good leader’s best bet for keeping his both himself and his pack happy.

Happy hunting.

peace. s

Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organisations locally and around the world.

The Human Resource

105 Relax and Succeed - If you don't know where you're goingI work a lot with companies that want to improve their cultures. In general terms, they want to remove friction. Like in physics, friction is wasted energy. So I’m there to minimize the amount of energy expended in friction between employees or departments, or through confusion and complexity, so that the maximum amount of the employee’s energy is being used to propel either the business and/or the employee forward.

In the vast majority of cases all competing businesses generally have the same tools and resources, so the real difference will be in how the people are managed. We’ve all walked into fast food outlets and seen the difference between good and bad management. It can be the same overall company, and yet one location is clean, fast and friendly, and another is slow, dirty and disorganized. And virtually 100% of the difference will be in the management.

It’s funny to me how many times managers will assume I’m going to use some form of measurement to assess their ability. They think I’ll look at their sales, or their productivity, or their adherence to rules etc. But just because a manager has decent numbers doesn’t mean there isn’t headroom. Because he or she is number one doesn’t mean that there’s not loads of room to improve. But how do we find this headroom?

105 Relax and Succeed - Everyone you will ever meetThe answer is: we ask the people. Why would we only use the manager’s brain to develop solutions to challenges? That’s only one perspective. Only one set of experiences. Rather than a manager formulating an idea and then selling it to his staff, better that the many brains of the staff work out the solution with the manager leading the discussion.

It’s much like with training. 95% of training supposes. It imagines what the employees want to know rather than asking them. If you want to know what would allow your employees to be more successful at work, ask them. If they don’t know the answer to that question, then make sure the asking is being done well, and if you’re still not getting good answers then maybe that’s not an ideal employee because you want people who are enacting, rather than stifling, the natural desire to grow and expand.

Weaker managers often get quite concerned when they learn I’ll be letting their employees tell me know how well things are running. Stronger managers find the practice only makes sense for the precise reason noted above—the only real difference between one competing company and another is their employees. Steel will do what steel will do. The same with water or electricity or any other commodity. All of the flexibility exists within the people. If you want to know if there’s room to improve you have to consult the people.

105 Relax and Succeed - A boss creates fearPart of the problem is that some management strongly resists working so closely with employees because they have historically seen themselves as a higher echelon, further up the pyramid of employees. In reality, a better metaphor might be that the employees are the parts of an engine that do the work, and the managers are the mechanics that keeps it all running. They’re not there to tell the engine what to do. They’re there to make sure the engine is well lubricated with positive feelings, that it’s got all of the appropriate parts, that it’s tuned up with information and training, and finally that it is operated safely, responsibly and successfully.

In the end, the way to remove friction is easy. Create an environment where suggestions and frustrations are met with openness, and where dialogue can lead to change. With some exceptions, complaints by employees should be viewed as opportunities for the business to succeed even more.

Maybe it’s by helping the employee to understand that their legitimate frustration is there only because it prevents a much larger frustration, or maybe it’s through making changes that make the employee happier and the company more successful. Either way, less energy gets spent on friction and more gets spent on the creation of value. And that’s the real secret to success in business.

Enjoy your day.

peace. s

Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.