Leadership Lessons from My Guide Dog: Enhancing Performance with Dog Treats

I’m constantly amazed at the powerful leadership lessons my guide dog, Fiji, has been teaching me since we started working together a few months ago. Most recently, she has shown me how effectively appropriate rewards can stimulate good performance.

On one of our regular routes we need to cross a busy road at a pedestrian crossing where there is a robot to stop the traffic. When a pedestrian wants to cross, they push a button on the robot pole and a few second later the lights will change.

When we first learned the route Fiji had difficulty finding the right pole. Sometimes she stopped short, sometimes she overshot a little. We always got there in the end, but seldom did we walk straight up to the pole.

Every time she found the pole and stopped with her nose touching it like she was meant to she would be rewarded with a dog treat. And after a few days Fiji could find that pole perfectly!

You may be asking what this has to do with leadership. If we, as leaders, reward good performance our teams will quickly make the link between the good performance and the reward. And that will motivate the team to repeat the required performance.

We do need to bear in mind that not everyone is motivated by the same rewards – if I had tried using slices of apple to reward Fiji rather than dog treats, the results would not have been as effective. Mind you, she is a Labrador, and they will eat almost anything, so maybe my statement doesn’t work in this context, but certainly I wouldn’t be motivated by dog treats.

The other thing to bear in mind is that the reward should be offered as soon after the required performance as possible, so the link between the two is clear. If I had only rewarded Fiji for finding the pole after we had crossed the road she would probably think the reward was for crossing the road… in fact, rewarding her at that stage might undermine my effort to get her to find the pole because she would be rushing to cross the road so she could have the treat… bypassing the pole completely.

In case you think I’m insulting your colleagues and team members by suggesting you treat them the same way I do my guide dog, remember how important Fiji is in terms of what she enables me to achieve, and how necessary a part of my team she is… and know that I’m actually paying your team a huge compliment!

Lessons from My guide Dog 01: A Question of Trust

It is appropriate that I am starting this series of blogs today, as it is international guide Dog Day and this post is about my (almost) brand new guide dog, Fiji.

Here is a link to a video in which SA Guide Dog Trainer, Cheryl Robertson (who trained Fiji and I last month) takes a blindfolded TV presenter on a walk with a guide dog:

At one point in the segment Cheryl stresses the importance of trust between the guide dog and the human partner, and, as a blind person working with a guide dog, I cannot tell you how important this trust relationship is. Trust is a crucial part of any relationship: between colleagues, team members, spouses, partners and friends. Think of the consequences of not being able to trust those who are part of your business and personal lives. How will that affect the relationship, the team, the organisation, your productivity? Now think of those same relationships being founded on a strong sense of trust – how does that play out in your life?

When Fiji and I started working together I struggled for a few days to develop that all important sense of trust. I would imagine that most new guide dog owners experience at least a degree of the same struggle that I did. It is one of the reasons that the guide dog trainers work so closely with the newly paired teams, to ease them over those first tentative steps when trust is not yet formed. Over the 2 weeks of training, when you are with your dog almost permanently and when you walk and work on various routes and in various situations, that trust slowly begins to form.

A little while back I posted an article about Fiji and I becoming lost on one of our walks (see A True Story of Human Kindness, on 14 April). That small incident – getting lost – impaired my trust in Fiji – not by a huge amount, but nonetheless, that trust was affected.

Since then, Fiji and I have been working really hard to rebuild the trust that we need to work as an effective team – Fiji needs to trust that I am comfortable, relaxed and in control of what is happening around us… and I need to trust that Fiji is going to follow my instructions without taking shortcuts that could put us into danger… or get us lost. Trust is a two-way street – we can only build it together.

Each successful walk we take continues to build that trust, and will do so for months to come – we are already working better than we were when we got lost, and every walk just keeps on getting better and better!

If trust is impaired in any of your relationships, remember that you can only improve that trust by showing trust, working on creating an environment where trust can germinate, and by acting in a way that shows that you are reliable and trustworthy – hoping that the other person (or people) involved will value the trust you offer and do the same.

Overcoming Challenges – Tips to Help You Move Forward 05

I was chatting to a potential client at an event last week and she asked me how she, , could maintain her positive attitude in a highly stressful job, rather than falling into the trap of taking on the negativity of those around her – a trend that exhausted her and which she sometimes ended up taking out on her family.

I think it is essential for us to top up our attitude tank on a regular basis, to give us the fuel we need to maintain our positivity even when those around us are caught up in negativity, and especially when we are asked to support and guide colleagues and team members who are experiencing challenges.

Sometimes we can counter the stress and negativity of others by remaining somewhat objective, but when we start taking on the stress of others, we need a different way to top up our positivity.

For me, spending some time on an activity that I really enjoy is a good way to do this – I absolutely love music and reading and often feed my attitude tank by taking a little time to immerse myself in a book or listen to a few of my favourite songs. Even having music playing quietly in the background while I am working through a difficult task can counter the stress to a degree. My husband, Craig, Is an avid runner and uses his running as a way of de-stressing when he gets home from work – recharging his attitude tank in the process.

What activities could you use to top up your attitude tank? Maybe spending some quality time with your children or partner, maybe taking some time to spend on an activity that you enjoy, maybe pampering yourself, or simply taking some time to just sit and do nothing.

Don’t be stranded with an empty attitude tank – top up as often as you need to help you move through your challenges and support those around you who are also experiencing difficulties.

Reflections on a Workshop

2016 04 09 08 32 43One of the things I enjoy about facilitating workshops is the interaction between the delegates and their engagement with the topic. As a facilitator I feel it is my job to do what I need to in order to spark the discussion and then simply nudge it as it develops.

Of course, a balance needs to be reached between giving participants the guidance and information they require to empower them and then letting them run with the discussion or the exercise.

Last week I facilitated a workshop on mental flexibility and was once again reminded how powerful the facilitation process can be to give people the space to find their own answers, to think in new ways and to arrive at (sometimes startling) self-awareness.

It is such a privilege to share an experience like that with a group of workshop participants… and is a truly rewarding experience for a facilitator!

A True Story of Human Kindness

Once upon a time, many years ago when I was still working with my now retired guide dog, Eccles, we were walking home from the train station. I suddenly became aware that a car was crawling along behind me – matching my pace as I gradually approached home. Now, I am not one to leap to assumptions of evil intent, but it did start to worry me that some unidentified person was stalking me… if stalking is a word that can be applied to a car… and I stopped some distance away from my home and confronted the driver.

“I’m so sorry,” a male voice said, “It’s only just occurred to me that you might be worried. I’m with the local security company and just wanted to make sure you got home safely.”

I could have ranted at him for not considering the implications of his actions, but instead I smiled and thanked him for checking we were okay… though I admit I did wait for him to drive off before completing my walk home.

As some of you know, I started working with my new guide dog, Fiji, last month. Generally I am proud of how well she is working. However, last week we had a… shall we say less than great walk back from the station and I ended up becoming very lost, and very panicked.

Then a car stopped and the driver asked if I needed help.

With the driver’s help I worked out where we were and Fiji and I started to make our way home. I was aware that a car was crawling along behind me – matching my pace as I gradually approached home. Eventually, as I drew up alongside my home, I attracted the driver’s attention to thank him for his help, and he explained why he had stopped.

It turned out to be the same guy who had followed me and Eccles all those years ago

Imagine how he might have responded last week had I ranted at him all those years ago, rather than smiling and thanking him for his help? Would he have bothered to stop and offer assistance this time round?

Maybe yes, maybe no – but I’m really glad I smiled and thanked him all those years ago!

The PSASA – A Great Business Decision

Cds IMG 0090Here is a photograph of me receiving my certificate of membership as an Associate Member of the Professional Speakers Association of Southern Africa, with Cape PSASA Chapter President 2015 – 2016, Richard Mulvey

In June 2015 I joined the Professional Speakers Association of Southern Africa and I can honestly say I think it is the best business decision I have ever made for my speaking business.

I have been a member of Toastmasters International for many years and have learned a great deal about constructing and presenting speeches, and have developed useful leadership skills through the toastmasters structured learning programmes.

However, from the PSASA I am learning how to build my speaking business – learning from those who have travelled this journey before me, and those who are experts in their fields of speaking. As a result, I am gaining insights into the speaking industry and the next steps I need to take to build my business. I am grateful to the many PSASA members who have been willing to share their knowledge and experience with me as part of this journey.

This year (2016-2017) I will be assisting the Cape Chapter of the PSASA as a part of the organising committee, and I look forward to an exciting year ahead with our new Cape chapter President, Jason Sandler and his team.

Find out more about the PSASA.

Find out more about Toastmasters Southern Africa.

A Quick Catch-Up

Cds 2016 03 28 13 42 49I have been quiet over the past few weeks – not because I’ve had nothing to say, but rather because I have been busy starting a new phase of my life.

On 28 February I started working with my new guide dog, Fiji. And over the past month my life has been full of change – getting to know Fiji and learning how we can work together effectively. It has been a month filled with learning and fun!

This is not to say that I have been idle – I have several workshops and presentations planned for the coming months, am moving forward with my book “A Different Way of Seeing: Living life Without Sight”, and have started creating a keynote on the leadership lessons I have learned from my guide dogs.

You’ll be hearing more about all of these in the coming weeks, I promise…

Book Review: Book Yourself Solid, by Michael Port

Are you involved in a service industry? If you are, would you like to be able to find more clients/customers?
If so, then Michael Port’s “Book Yourself Solid: The Fastest, Easiest and Most Reliable System for Getting More Clients Than You Can Handle Even if You Hate Marketing and Selling” is a must read for you!

Yes, the title is long, but the book itself is easy to read, flows ell and is full of practical advice on how to grow your network, give value to your clients to build industry credibility,, improve your success rate in attracting new clients, and promoting yourself and your products in a powerful way. The book is also something of a workbook, with exercises that reinforce each of the main points.

I particularly found the chapters on how to promote yourself using different media fascinating and of immense value – they have certainly given me lots to think on as I continue building my own business!

Definitely a book I would recommend!

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