Small Business Leadership on a Leash

leadership lessons learned on a leashThe weather in the Pacific Northwest having finally cooperated, relenting from a pattern of gray cold drizzle to a more moderate and at least semi-sunny schedule of days enabled me to get out of the house and into the neighborhood to walk my dog several times this week.  This is a dog that’s new to our family; while we have a middle-aged yellow lab, the newest addition to our household is a two-year old Pomeranian, and we’re all still getting used to each other.

The first couple of walks we took together were fact-finding. She on a mission to sniff every rock, tree and plant that seemed at all interesting, and me, to find out what kind of commands she knows and whether she can keep up on a long walk.  As I walked her last week I remembered a leadership blog post written by a man who noted that his dog kept her head down, and so missed a lot of the “big picture,” the beauty on the horizon and the chance to anticipate dangers or opportunities that might be coming up.

As I thought about his post, it brought to mind a few analogies of my own about small business leadership on a leash; here are my 4 takeaways:

  • Being on my end of the leash means looking ahead, keeping track of her, and making constant course corrections. 

As the leader of our little expeditions, it’s my job to determine which course we’ll take, keep an eye out for dangers (like on-coming cars or bigger dogs) and to also be aware of when she begins to divert course. Even a little shift on her part due to a distraction could put her directly under my feet.  If that happens, even if it doesn’t make me stumble, she gets tweaked in the process.

As the leader of your business, it’s your job to set the direction for your organization.  It’s your job to watch out for things unforeseen like new technologies and opportunities as well as dangers like competitors, economic downturns and the like.  And as if that weren’t a big enough job, it’s your job to be in a position to know whether your staff are on course, or whether they could be putting themselves or even your business at risk though poor job performance or customer service.  And it’s your job to make all employees know both the direction you want to go in (the mission and vision of your organization) as well as how their role relates to them.

Do you get that?  It’s not your employees’ job to fulfill the mission and vision of your organization; it’s your job to inspire commitment to the mission and vision that causes employees to help you get there.  Ultimately, you are on the direction-setting end of the leash, you are the one setting the pace, and you’re the one responsible for the well-being of your employees on the journey itself.

  • Being on her end of the leash puts her closer to the ground and in a better position to know, in more detail, just what is going on there. 

The author of the aforementioned blog post pointed out the down-side of his dog keeping her head down, but there are pros to that as well in terms of our analogy.  Here’s one: Your employees are the ones closest to each and every problem and each and every opportunity within your organization.  They have the scoop, they’ve “sniffed out” the particulars, so to speak.  However, in many organizations, leaders practice more top-down management than they do information gathering.  Over time, these discouraged employees will simply stop telling their bosses about the problems they see or the improvements they could make, because the bosses just aren’t listening.

In a previous post about marketing and employee culture I pointed out the irony that while many business owners claim that their employees are their most valuable asset, they actually treat them more like ‘tools’ than valued resources.  Employees aren’t just there to execute the will of others, and being appointed to a place of leadership might actually make you less smart and less aware of problems and opportunities, not more so.

  • Since she’s doing what I want and need her to do (most of the time) she needs – and deserves – constant encouragement. 

As a 10 pound Pomeranian, this pup is manhandled, cajoled and moved about by every other member of the household. She doesn’t get to direct her own time very often. And when it comes to our walks, she has no say in where we’ll go, how long we’ll walk or how quickly we’ll do it.  Even more so than do others in the household who have more control over what they’ll do and when, she deserves constant encouragement and praise.

This brings to mind entry level, low-man-on-the-totem-pole jobs which are often not only not so fun, but which are often thankless and go unnoticed (unless not done properly).  Everyone in your organization deserves to be praised equally for their contribution toward the destination (fulfilling the mission and vision of your organization).  Because every role within your organization is vital to their fulfillment.

Yet all too often people doing “small” jobs well go unacknowledged while people in more visible roles receive more than their fair share.  You can lessen this by being more aware and making it part of your work day to thank and acknowledge people on your staff.  If you have to, create a checklist and make it your goal to personally acknowledge and appreciate each and every individual at some point during the course of a day, week, month or year – depending on the size of your staff.  And go out of your way especially to thank those in the most thankless roles.  Regardless of their position on the organizational chart, there’s no reason that anyone in your organization needs to feel like the “low man” on the totem pole.

  • Occasional stops and exploration keep it from feeling like work (for both of us). 

While I could ruthlessly drive my dog ahead on our walks so that I can get back to the house, back to work and on with my day, I try to take her nature, needs and wants into consideration as well.  For one thing, I want her to look forward to the walk we take together. If I make it miserable for her, chances are, she’ll run and hide when she sees me putting on my walking shoes.  And for another, I recognize that these little exploratory pauses make her life more interesting.

As a leader and manager, you can enrich the jobs of people on your staff by making them more interesting.  You can make things more interesting (and thereby reap the rewards of greater employee loyalty and buy-in) through cross training, education and development. You can make things more interesting by providing each employee with a pathway for professional growth, based on their interests and desires.  You can improve the culture in your business by making sure that “work” is not the only thing on the agenda, day in and day out.

Enhanced by Zemanta

2 replies
  1. threetwelvedavid
    threetwelvedavid says:

    Very nice extended analogy! As far as the last point, I think that enriching the work environment (and the walk) makes it LESS like work, and not ‘keep it feeling like work’ — but I might be reading it wrong in my head. Thank you for this article 🙂

    • Elizabeth Kraus
      Elizabeth Kraus says:

      Thanks for your comment! I’ll take a look at the last point, I may have been typing faster than I was thinking 🙂 either way, thank you and have a great week! Elizabeth

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply