5 things my dog taught me about management 

My new puppy has brought home a few important things to me in the last month, and not just the balls I ask him to fetch. Learning to train him has illustrated some of the most foundational principals of effective management. Below are the top five training points for building up your working relationships with those you manage, whether human or canine.

1. Build effective communication 

Before you can expect a dog to behave well, you need to be able to identify the cues they are giving you as to their needs. Are you annoyed that they are barking? What might they be trying to communicate to you? Perhaps they are hungry or haven’t gotten enough exercise that day. Noticing what your dog needs and providing that clears away concerns that may prevent them from being receptive to your guidance. When you have met your dog’s needs, you can also communicate your needs by praising the right behaviors (like chewing chew toys) and disincentivizing the wrong behaviors (like chewing shoes).

If you’re experiencing friction with an employee, have you taken cues from them as to their work style? Have you established communication norms? Have you provided clear feedback about what is working for you and what is not? (Pro tip: try creating a Management Readme on Readme.bio for each of your teammates, to more quickly orient yourself to everyone’s work style preferences.)

2. Break it down

Further to the communication point, it often is not enough to just say “be better” at XYZ, as such asks are not specific, and do not delineate a path forward. My dog initially struggled with “leave it”. I started with a simple piece of paper towel in my hand (which he normally loves to chew). He successfully left it. But I made the mistake of jumping right to putting it on the floor and walking away. He chewed it immediately. It was too big a leap for him. I’d skipped across the incremental steps that would have built up his focus. Similarly, explaining a piece of a process to colleagues and then jumping to the end, without breaking out the steps in between, makes it likely that you will lose people in the process. For managees, throwing them in the deep end with minimal prep is much more overwhelming than incrementally increasing responsibility.

I invested time in learning about dog training so that I could figure out how to lead him to the behaviors I wanted to see. Similarly, managers much invest the time to specify what precisely they want to see in terms of actions and outcomes, and work with their team to identify how to get there in the needed time frame.

3. Be consistent

Being consistent and predictable to those you manage helps them to figure out how to work best with you. My dog now start making little noises at 7am every day, as he knows that’s when we take him out to do his morning business, get fed, and play. He doesn’t make noises at night, as he knows we intend to sleep all the way through it. Similarly, managees can meld to your schedule and style if you are consistent. If you always block off 8-9am to review final work, they will plan to provide you content for review at that time. If you praise people for thoughtful project planning or being vocal during meetings, you can expect to see more of that.

4. Have patience 

Dogs take months and even years to be fully trained even in a single behavior. Expect them to make mistakes, and be forgiving yet persistent. Even smart dogs take a lot of positive reinforcement to solidify a habit. Humans need the same! It is perfectly normal to need to repeat yourself over and over, in different settings, so be accepting of this reality.

5. Invest

Dogs grow into behaviors, not out of them. If you continue to invest in building the right behaviors in the first year, you will reap the benefits for a lifetime. Your puppy will grow into an impressive dog who is a loyal companion. It goes without saying that people are also worth the investment! Your managees will prove resilient, and can grow leaps and bounds with the right support.