10 Oct 2011

Lesson 13 – Team Development Lessons Taught by my Dog

Leading the team is not a half-hearted, part time responsibility.

Owning a pet, much like deciding to have children, is not a decision to be taken lightly. You are responsible for the welfare, care and protection of something / someone other than yourself. This task requires you to perform many different roles requiring many different skills – some of which are innate and others that you learn as you go.

Having Jake in the family has highlighted the significance of consistently providing him guidance and leadership. There are times when I get frustrated by his actions, yet I can’t let that frustration manifest into actions or words that he doesn’t understand or deserve. There are other times that I want to play with him and forget what an influence I can have over him.

A most recent example was playing with Jake on our wooden floor with a ball. Simple game – I roll the ball on the floor and he fetches it back for me. There is a twist though; the wooden floor makes it very slippery for a four-legged animal with claws. Jake was slipping and sliding and he went for the ball, which looked very funny and probably prompted me to roll the ball further and further away. As Jake built up speed to get the ball, he would slide further until eventually, he slid right into the wall (not enough to hurt him, but enough for him to notice). Involuntarily, I laughed out loud (I hear your scolding thoughts – I did feel guilty – but in my defence it was unintentional and it did look very funny).

It was at this point that I realised that this wasn’t the type of game I should be playing with Jake. Not because Jake slid into the wall, but because my laugh caused Jake to feel very embarrassed. I didn’t think it was possible before owning a dog, but I now know that Jake can understand my moods and will react just like a human would, and he does not like to be laughed at.

How is this story relevant for you and your team? A leader needs to realise that when you accept a position of leadership, you have undertaken a responsibility for those that are in your team. As a leader of team, you need to recognize that:

  • There are some things that you should and shouldn’t do (and those rules change from team to team).
  • Your opinion and mood has a direct influence over your team, whether that be positive or negative.
  • There are some things that you can do as a team member that you can’t do as a leader.
  • Even if you want to be recognised as ‘one of the team’, you are always recognised as the leader of the team.
  • Whether you want it to or not, your behaviour (good or bad) sets the example for the team.

Because of these points, leading a team cannot be a part-time responsibility. You are either committed to your team, or you aren’t. There isn’t a great deal of room for anything in between. As a leader you have influence, and it is your choice whether you want this to be positive or not.

This is probably the area that catches leaders by surprise the most. New leaders expect that there will be changes to what they have done before; they will work harder, they will have more responsibility and people will look to them for decisions. But the fact that the role is not 9 to 5 surprises many. Most leadership roles are not the type of job that you can ‘clock off’ from.

When you are interacting with members of your team, whether it is at work, at a social function, at a pub or a chance meeting shopping on the weekend, your team members will still ‘see’ the role that you fill at work and your behaviour will be judged accordingly.

It is probably for this reason that the motto of my last military unit has stuck the longest and for me, defines the role of leadership most clearly. Officers Training School has the motto ‘Accept Responsibility’. It is a simple statement but to be a successful leader, that is what you have to do. Assuming a role of leadership requires you to accept the responsibility of the role wholeheartedly. Your team expects nothing less from you.

In my case with Jake, that means not forgetting that he sees me as the leader, not one of the members fo the pack. My behaviour with him needs to reflect that.What does it mean for you?

Have you fully assumed the responsibility of your role? Do you understand the differences expected in your organisation between team member and team leader? Is the behaviour you exhibit the positive behaviour you expect of your team?