Leadership and dogs look very different worlds with few common points. Well, they are certainly different things. Leadership is a very serious thing and training a dog has little to do with leading a person but, is there anything that dogs can teach us about leadership? Do dogs behave at a certain point like humans? The answer is YES. So, what lessons can we learn from dogs about leadership?
1. Give immediate feedback: Dogs can only associate an action and its consequence if one comes immediately after the other (no more than 5 seconds delay). This is the way they learn, through a mechanism called operant conditioning. Operant conditioning also works for humans. It is true that humans can associate more distant cause and effect relationships, but only at a certain point. The more immediate the feedback, the higher effect you’ll get.
- Tip for humans: Dogs don’t mind if they are corrected in public, but people prefer receiving negative feedback in private.
2. Be consistent: You can drive a dog crazy if the same action triggers a very different consequence: “chewing” on their toys is great but “chewing” on your shoes is wrong. It is difficult for them to understand why the same thing (“chewing”) drives such a different behaviors on us. We must help them perceive the small differences that make each situation unique. Humans are more intelligent and capable of seeing “these little things” that can completely change the circumstances, but we need anyway a consistent response to our actions. If receiving feedback is welcome today and makes you mad tomorrow, nobody will know how to work with you.
3. Don’t punish, reward: Dogs can learn using punishment, but learning is more fun, lasts longer and creates less frustration if you use rewards. Punishment must be the very last resource and is acceptable only if the life of the dog is at risk. The same applies to humans.
4. Teaching takes time and patience: A teaching session with a dog needs preparation (environment, tricks), time (patience, calm), a clear definition of success and persistence (repetition with progressive difficulty). People needs pretty much the same things:
- have a clear training goal: define the purpose
- prepare the session: what do you need?
- patience and time: things generally don’t work the first time
- frequent repetition setting the bar higher each time
If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.
The philosopher John Locke, the statesman Benjamin Franklin, the transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau, and the President Woodrow Wilson all presented statements matching this theme (learn more here). All of them knew that simplicity is a final state that requires hard work and clear ideas. Work executed without proper reflexion tends to be erratic, messy, partial. Only time and work can develop a concept and present it pure and clear.
It is no surprise that one of the most important Lean ideas is looking for simplicity: simple solutions, simple management rules, simple visuals. And, ironically, simplicity is not simple. It takes time, practice and patience. The first solution / panel / management system you put in place is rarely good. It typically needs time for testing and for development based on customer feedback.
Give time to simplicity.
Let’s say it straight forward: multitasking does not exist. We all have sometimes perceived that we were successfully doing 2 different things simultaneously, but it was an illusion: our brain is a serial thinker (learn more here or here).
All the supposed benefits of doing 2 things at the same time are false. Our brain can not shift focus from one task to another immediately: it needs time and effort, which decreases dramatically safety (lower attention), quality (more errors) and delivery (less efficiency and effectiveness). In other words: intellectual work follows similar rules as material work. Mental changeovers exist.
Let’s see an example.
Lean for services (Lean for “information work”) must focus in creating a healthy environment to think properly. It is critical to:
- Avoid interruptions
- Make sure all the needed information is available
- Encourage people to save enough time to focus in one specific task
For more information, I recommend these books
- “A Factory of One” (Daniel Markovitz): Lean principles for your individual work
- “Lean Office and Service simplified” (Drew Locher): Lean principles to design information work.
I liked very much this article by Justin Bariso at http://www.inc.com because it highlights the most important Lean leadership principle: Lead by example. The “Do what I say, not what I do” motto has never been valid, and it will be a total killer when applying Lean or any other continuous improvement methodology.
Lead by example is easy to say and difficult to do. I’ve seen this error happen over and over, but there are certain situations when it is extremely common:
- Starting a Lean transformation: Some think Lean can happen even if the leader is not present. This is wrong. No Leader, no Lean.
- Creating a learning culture: When problems arise and Lean looks like a bad decision, it is easy to look for someone to blame. Leaders must be the first who keep calm, promote real problem solving and avoid witch-hunts.
- Involving others: If, as a leader, you take all important decisions, how will you teach your people to trust and cooperate with others? Delegate, create an environment where testing is welcome and focus more in “how can I help?” and less in “how can I control?”
- Outsourcing Lean work: Lean might be considered as something an external consultant can do for you with your team. Wrong. Consultants share knowledge, leaders make change happen.
A final thought:
Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It’s the only thing.
I wrote some weeks ago a summary of a conference about engagement (find the post here). This graph summarizes the most important reasons that keep your people engaged. Remember, managers cannot make people happy, but they have a big influence in creating the right environment. Enjoy!
This happens all the time. Everybody knows that innovation is all about the customer, but we tend to forget that we have to understand customer needs before we do anything else. Customers put us in a different point of view and empathy maps are tools which can help us see the world from our customer’s perspective. Validating ideas is the basis of user centered design (vs. solution centered design)
Empathy maps were created and first used by XPLAIN. Today there are several slightly different templates available, most of them with 6 different blocks like in this example:
Empathy maps help you think and feel like one of your customers:
- What do they think about the product? How do they feel about it (is it a good experience, is it painful?)
- What do they see when using the product? Where are they? With who?
- What do they hear others say about the product? Has anyone recommended it?
- How do they use the product? What problems do they face? How do they solve them?
- What are their wishes?
- What are their pains?
Some questions are easier to answer (behaviors, problems, recommendations) because they can be seen or heard, others are difficult (pains, wishes, feelings). Do your best and put yourself in your customers’ shoes. Try hard!
This is the typical process to use the empathy map:
- Select a team: Developers, Managers, Stakeholders & Customers (if possible)
- Segment your customers. This is not mandatory but it will help you “feel like a customer” and avoid generic ideas, which are useless. Think the way a “traveler” feels at an airport; now think about “a pregnant woman at an airport” or a “person with limited mobility at an airport”. See the difference?
- Choose a customer segment and make them personal. Draw a picture of them, give them a name. Empathy is about feeling close to people: thinking about a “traveler” is one thing; thinking about “Peter and his two kids, Susan and Kevin, who are traveling to Miami to see their grandmother” is something different.
- Go question by question and fill the empathy map: “How do I feel?”, “What do I see?”, “What are the problems I face?”, “What could make me happy?” and so on. Write answer on post-its and stick them to a flip chart. Seriously, no computers.
- List ideas of innovative potential solutions.
The empathy map creates many assumptions and hypothesis that must be validated before moving on. Validating data with customers is critical and is trickier than it seems. Interviewing and asking the right questions can make a big difference.
- Bad questions: Feeling-based questions like “Is this a good product?”, “Do you like it?”, “Is this something you would pay for?”
- Good questions: Fact-based questions like “What are the main problems?”, “What do you miss?”, “What happened last time you used it?”, “Where do you use the product?”, “Has anybody recommended this to you?”, “How do you use this product?” an so on.
This video (from The Lean Playbook) shows the importance of validating data and asking great questions:
The empathy map is a great tool to help a development team understand customers. Don’t waste time and money building something nobody wants.
Find out more here:
- Empathy map image from: http://www.solutionsiq.com/what-is-an-empathy-map/
I’ve participated this week in a management forum and one of the hot topics was to discuss about what makes a person a good manager. Every person has ideas shaped by past experience and natural comfort zones that guide his behavior. However, almost everybody agrees that managers must take care of these 3 things:
This might look easy, but it is not.
Fairness means taking the right decisions. Give credit to your people for their work. Do what you say and say what you do. Apply rules to yourself, not only to your team. Assign work accordingly to experience and preferences.
“For what the king fundamentally insisted upon was that his authority should be respected. He tolerated no disobedience. He was an absolute monarch. But, because he was a very good man, he made his orders reasonable.” (The Little Prince, 10.15)
Respect means treating people right. It is the opposite of fear. Don’t use your position in the company to pretend being always right. Don’t use people, develop them. Being respected is key; being feared shows the result of management short-term strategies.
Trust means creating communication channels. Listen to your people. Don’t give lessons, give advise. Say thank you when people tell you the truth.
Can you learn management? Yes. Most of us can benefit from experts and learn what to do and what not to do. There are many techniques out there (for coaching, people development, communication, etc..) that will improve our chances of success. Getting a coach or a mentor might be a great idea for new managers. Is management for everybody? No. Managers must love being managers, and not everybody likes doing this. Of course, some people like taking the lead in specific circumstances and they do a great job (situational leadership) but they don’t like being the boss all the time, and this is ok.
Remember that the final goal of a manager is to develop people to their best possible level, even better than yourself. If you are not ready to do this, do everybody a favor and work in something else.