Lessons from my Guide Dog: Me – a Control Freak?

Recently my guide dog, Fiji, has shown me in no uncertain terms that micromanagement does not work. I’ve always known I preferred being able to control what was happening around me, but had never thought of myself as a control freak… till now.

My first lesson in micromanagement happened 5 months ago when we introduced Fiji to the other dogs at home – a process that we had been thoroughly briefed on by the guide dog trainers. Remember that we needed to introduce a new member into a team that had long since sorted out their personalities (dog-alities? Canine-alities?) and their processes. Potentially it could have been a difficult time for everyone concerned.

On the drive home I gave my husband, Craig, long and detailed instructions on how we were going to proceed. Yet when it came down to it, all those instructions went straight out the window – which is where Fiji tried to go as soon as she saw the rest of her new doggy family. And very soon Fiji was playing happily as an integral part of the pack.

So much for my trying to micromanage the situation!

My second lesson on micromanagement took place a few weeks later. Though I had no issues with Fiji while we were walking our routes, she had a tendency to become highly excited when around people, which I felt I needed to manage as some people do not like dogs. I sought advice from the guide dog trainers and it helped… a bit.

Then it dawned on me that the times I was most stressed about the issue and tried hardest to keep her under tight control were the times my highly sensitive guide dog reacted to people most strongly. So I took a conscious decision to relax and only react if it was warranted… and the situation eased almost immediately. Once again it appeared that my trying to micromanage the situation was not the most effective response.

Since then I have tried to incorporate this learning into my leadership activities, and my life has become less complicated, less stressful and less busy. I’m trying to resist double checking that every task that the team needs to accomplish is being done. I’m trying to let people resolve their own minor conflicts while being available if I am needed. I’m also trying to let go control and trust in the process rather than planning every minute detail of every possible eventuality that might possibly occur.

I’m definitely not perfect and there are times I don’t get it right – either with the teams with whom I’m working, or with Fiji – but I’m finding there is less conflict and more collaboration since I’ve started trying to let go of control by micromanaging the team.

Confidence – a transferable Skill

A few weeks ago I wrote about how my levels of self-confidence had grown over the short time I had been working with my guide dog, Fiji. And that is still true. What I’ve realized is that the confidence has transferred to other areas in my life.

Whether it is having the confidence to apply to be considered as a speaker for PechaKucha Cape Town, when I usually avoid using PowerPoint slides (for those who don’t know, PechaKucha is a presentation format of 20 slides, 20 seconds per slide); or whether it is having the courage to walk over to a neighbour’s home on my own – no guide dog, no sighted guide – I have started doing things that I would have avoided several months ago, because my confidence has grown.

So, how could this be useful to a manager or team leader in the workplace?

Let’s say you have a member of your team who lacks confidence –someone with potential, a productive member of the organisation, but who simply lacks confidence. Imagine if you could help that team member grow in confidence in one single aspect of their work, or their life. That confidence could transfer back into other areas and could have a benefit to the overall performance of the team, not just the individual team member.

Expert on building self-confidence, James Hurford, has this to say, “When you ‘do what you cannot do’, you gain self-confidence. Even if you fail, you gain self-confidence because you were brave enough to look your fear in the eye and act anyway.”  

Helping your team to develop self-confidence could have a positive impact on your team and your organisation. Why not give it a try?
Find out more about James Hurford on www.facebook.com/TheConfidenceDoctor/

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!

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…

Email updates
Lois shares updates on her book, speaking and the reality of living with blindness. Find out what Lois is up to – subscribe here.