When you are launching a startup, especially for the first time, learning to bootstrap, pitch and raise finance will be a bigger priority than developing leadership skills. But as the business grows and needs more people on board, your ability to lead a team will be crucial to its success.
There are countless books, online webinars and training courses on how to become an effective leader, but some might argue that the best teachers in the world are dogs. As species, humans and canines are worlds apart, but as pack animals, dogs are amazing team players, and it all comes down to strong and effective leadership.
Leading UK dog behaviourist Peter Archer, who runs Pawsitive Training, has worked with dogs for over 15 years. The former Army dog trainer-turned pet behaviourist believes that when it comes to getting the best out of their teams, business owners can learn plenty from man’s best friend.
He says: “The lead dog in a pack has the respect and trust of every other member of the pack. They don’t lead by bullying or aggression, but by calm assertiveness and by encouragement. They teach the other dogs how to work as a unit, to hunt, to stay safe, to survive. It’s not so different in a business. You want a leader who can show they have certain skills, winning new business and dealing with problems, to earn your trust. You don’t want a boss who puts you under pressure, bullies you and makes you feel bad. If that’s their style, they will never have a strong and engaged team.”
And it isn’t just the dog training fraternity that sees a clear connection. Leadership coach and international speaker Dr. Lesley Hunter founded the coaching model Challenge Choice Change and is the author of ‘Who Put You in Charge?’ a book based on the simple premise of being a human pack leader to a canine.
Whether you subscribe to comparisons of teams and packs or not, the book offers plenty of insight for entrepreneurs new to the task of leading a team, building engagement and trust and boosting performance.
Hunter says: “Can we improve the way we influence, communicate and maintain relative harmony among a team of people in a business? Definitely. I have taken leaders out of their businesses and put them in a field with my dog, a boisterous strong-willed German Shepherd, and ask them to complete a simple task. They regularly struggled and typically tried to ‘reason with’ the dog by asking or telling it what to do without considering the best way to communicate.
“Dogs, just like people, are motivated by different things and it is crucial to understand this if you want to communicate effectively and influence their actions to achieve an end result.”
She believes that humans often exhibit a ‘pack instinct’, especially in the workplace where someone’s identity can be defined by their position, role and function in a team rather than who they are.
“Many people actually lack basic emotional intelligence and this shows acutely in the way they behave and interact with others at work,” she says. “This is one of the key areas being identified through research into authentic leadership, where the authenticity of the leader is a key factor in promoting trust and success among their followers, the same as the trust that exists to promote survival in a pack of dogs.”
In reality, few people get a chance to observe the way dogs behave in a pack, but for Dave and Anna France, owners of dog-walking business Best Paw Forward, it’s all in a day’s work. And both having previously worked for a large organisation, they’ve seen human team dynamics at their best and worst.
“Among the groups of dogs in our care there are lots of personalities, from the loud and pushy, to the easy-going and shy,” says Anna. “You see the occasional bickering, usually over something trivial, but it’s over in seconds and forgotten. These very different dogs are all content being part of a pack, and they are brilliant at making it work.”
Perhaps it’s an absence of egos, or an innate sense that working as a unit gets the best results that makes dogs such powerful team players. In the business world, egos often drive personal agendas that can prove disruptive for the smallest of organisations. That is a key lesson for a leader-in-waiting.
“There is a lot that people in a small business can learn from canine behaviour; dogs want to please their leader, they are amazing at reading each other’s body languages, understanding each other, and working together for the benefit of the group,” adds Dave France. “Having worked with and managed both people and dogs, I think I’d choose dogs every time.”
According to Hunter, entrepreneurs who are dog owners can have an advantage in the leadership stakes, simply because they understand the leader/follower relationship and dynamics at behavioural level.
She says: “The one thing that dogs do is give immediate feedback and demonstrate flexibility in their behaviour; they typically respond to the energy and behaviour of those, whether people or other dogs, they are interacting with. On the other hand, humans are more likely to repeat patterns of behaviour and approach situations in their preferred way, rather than considering how to adapt and respond, especially in times of pressure and stress.
“It may not be a conscious decision that dog owners make but they are more likely to be aware of their own behavioural patterns and understand the impact they have on other people.”
This article was written by Alison Coleman from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.