I recently interviewed Luzelle from K9 Solutions a well-known dog trainer. I was interested to understand the role non-verbal communication plays in effectively leading dogs. What I didn’t expect (not having much experience around dogs) was the parallels between luzelle’s work and my own. Luzelle says that when she is working with a dog to correct its behaviour what she is actually doing is training their owner to be a more confident and effective leader.
I wanted to offer a few tips you can take with you back to the workplace (and even back home to your dog!)
Tip #1: Understand the power of praise
Like dogs, humans respond better to praise. A study in 2004 found employees who receive praise are more productive, more engaged and more likely to stay with their organisation. The results also showed praised employees have better health and are better received by customers.
Luzelle highlighted a time when she trained a dog named Girl, who had apparently only heard "no" and "stop" - never once hearing she's done a good job.
"When we finally taught her with a 'yes' word that she was doing the right thing, her whole world changed," Luzelle said. "She finally understood what they wanted and it made a huge difference in her life."
Consequences are still, of course, necessary. But sometimes we are too quick to say 'no' and forget to say 'yes'. When we understand what exactly we are doing right, and doing well in, we do it more. And as leaders, we need to make the time to pull someone aside and say, "You've done a good job on X because Y."
Tip #2: Fix your posture
Body language is an integral part of leadership as it is training dogs. 80% of what we communicate is communicated nonverbally.
"I was out with a group of people and there was some loose dogs around," Luzelle said. "This guy's posture was really bent over and one of the dogs came up behind him and sniffed him. I called his name and mentioned, 'Walk up straight'. As soon as he rightened his posture, the dog backed off from him."
Luzelle explained that dogs tend to pick on weakness – something have a tendency to do - and by adjusting his posture, the man nonverbally communicated strength and power.
There is quite a lot involved in body language, including everything from your facial expressions to the direction your feet are pointed. But if there is one good place to start, it's adjusting your posture. Drop those shoulders, align your spine, find grounding in your feet.
Tip #3: Be both authoritative and approachable
Like dogs, if people are afraid to come to you, you're no longer leading. Being approachable is just as powerful as having authority. Leaders find a balance in both.
"If dogs are scared to come to you, they're not going to come back when you call," Luzelle said.
As a leader, you need to provide that consistency and that status but also, you need to be a teacher and a coach. You need people to feel they can come to you, they can talk to you and talk things through - that you have that sort of rapport with them.
Tip #4: Control your voice
"Your voice matters," Luzelle said.
A high-pitched, excitable voice shows weakness and playfulness. The pitch and tone of your voice conveys a message to others. But just because you have a certain sound to your voice doesn't mean you can never be a leader, it just means you need to practice controlling it.
"You need to lower your tone of voice and speak calmly," Luzelle said.
A lower tone equals more power. Men do have natural lower voices but as women, if we lower our voices and slow down our speaking, it has a tremendous effect on other people.
Tip #5: Manage your stress response
We've all heard about the fight, flight and freeze response. When we're in the stress response, we're inconsistent and we behave in a very different way.
"When you're adrenaline kicks in, you cannot make clear decisions," Luzelle said. "In an emergency, would you rather have a librarian or a firefighter? You really need to be someone with authority that can take charge of the situation in a calm manner."
This is the same for people. You cannot effectively lead others when you have lost control in yourself. It's okay to respond to stress, but a leader knows what those first signals are and can mitigate their response. If you know how you respond to stressful situations, you can implement early management techniques so you can navigate successfully.
Tip #6: Understand everyone's "why"
As managers we're often not paying attention - we're not asking the "why?"
"You can't move forward unless you assess the problem and to assess the problem, you have to know what's going on," Luzelle said.
Like a good dog owner, an effective leader has to get to know the individuals that make up the team. Each person will respond differently to praise and consequence. This way you are able to reduce the fear, improve the joy and help strengthen and empower those struggling with certain tasks.
"As a manager, or you as a dog owner, have about 50% effect on what your staff feel, do, say, and how they will act to things. If you're an effective leader, this means everything will go really well. If you're not, you will have problems."