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The Importance of Being the Leader Your Group Needs

(The following is excerpted from an article I wrote for a business journal.)

In the Animal Kingdom, just as in the human business world, the very survival of the group depends upon the right kind of leadership, not just someone who is “in charge”. Therefore, in the wild, leadership qualities are a matter of life and death; consider that in a wolf pack, sometimes consisting of 40-50 animals, if a leader becomes unbalanced and without calm, assertive leadership often the rest of the pack will kill that leader. This is because of simple, yet time honored operational success principals that the survival of the group is more important than the survival of one individual.

While that may seem harsh we have to explore why that is so important in the wild: 1) no one knows when and where the next meal will be coming (or how big it will be), 2) whether they will be attacked for operating in another’s’ territory, and 3) that the group’s success lies in the reproduction within the pack to continue the pack’s progress as well as its survival. While the correlation to the human business world is glaringly obvious, wolf packs can exist for decades in the harshest of environments while human businesses sometimes never even get off the ground, much less stay in business for very long. So what’s the difference and what can we learn from our furry friends?

Humans are the only grouping within the Animal Kingdom who follow, and often times will elevate, an unbalanced individual to be in a leadership position. In canine behavioral training, I show owners how changing their leadership position within their “pack” will often instantly change the behavior of their dog, when the behavior ranges from too anxious, unsettled, anti-social, or aggressive towards everything and everyone. The vast majority of canines are followers, and that is their strength. They follow directions from leaders, they do the work to the best of their abilities, and they support the balanced leaders. They are also the individuals who will eliminate the unbalanced leader from their midst.

Canines also will fill a void that exists in leadership positions, often to an unproductive end. Followers who are thrust into leadership positions unwillingly will often “act out” because they are way out of their comfort zone and operating beyond their skill set. Dogs, being purely perceptual beings, can give us instant feedback as to how well we ourselves are doing in our leadership roles. Humans are intellectual/spiritual/emotional and that drives us differently – we think beyond the present and try to create strategies for our futures.

Another component of leadership is knowing how to follow. How often have we heard the grumbling after a company disaster and the conversation revolves around “horrible” and “stupid” decisions management made. While part of that may be true, even the best ideas without people to do the work to the best of their ability will guarantee failure. That is instability on the part of the workers/followers. If a leader has never been a follower, they will not understand how the strength of the group is in their unity. The correct leader coaches and generates enthusiasm in the workplace and not by demanding that the followers go to yet another retreat or class on teambuilding.

In the canine world, the rules are simple: calm & assertive leaders create calm and engaged followers; the entire group (leaders/followers) follow the same rules and limitations on behavior, and the leaders coach the followers to be the leaders of tomorrow within the group and beyond. Successful human leadership requires these same operational elements.

If you are unsure of your leadership abilities, be around dogs, go to a shelter or even to a local dog park (without your own dog) and walk around the area. See which, if any, dogs begin to actually follow you; the dogs that read your energy or leadership as weak will not follow calmly. It is just that simple. Some of my clients are professional sports figures, millionaire owners of successful companies, Grammy award-winning artists and many more who are pretty good in their respective jobs yet don’t understand leadership in their dogs’ world. As soon as their leadership style changes at home with their dog, the humans become more productive and less stressed even in their work world, if they stay consistent. Consistency in leadership is strength and it is something the followers can always count on (which then becomes their comfort zone).

So take a hint from our dogs: stay calm and be a leader, not just a boss!


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