Dog Training as a Leadership Style

A dog trainer once told me that the perfectly trained dog is one that is always looking to you for permission to do the next thing, whatever that is. You want the dog’s eyes on you, waiting for your next command. The way you get a dog to act this way is to always discourage initiative on the part of the dog. If they are going to run out the door as soon as you open it, slam the door in their face. They will quickly learn to look to you for permission to go out the door.

Some managers do a similar thing when working with employees. Whenever the employee takes any initiative, the manager responds with a criticism or correction or a question, “Why did you do that…” The employee quickly learns that they need to check with the manager before they do anything. The manager may feel more in control but can’t figure out why they are so stressed and working so hard. This management style is one that is focused on control instead of employee empowerment. The manager needs to feel involved in every decision. While this may be gratifying to the manager, it makes for weak organizations. The manager’s efforts are divided by the number of employees and the growth of the organization is limited by that fact.

If the manager, instead, supports the employee by complementing the initiative and embracing ideas that are not the manager’s own, the employee will develop the confidence to act independently and think for themselves. Obviously, this only works in an environment where the employee has clear boundaries to their authority and responsibility. But the goal here is an organization made up of employees who know and do their job without needing to check in to the manager for every decision. The employee knows when they need their manager’s input. In this kind of organization, the manager’s efforts are multiplied by the number of employees instead of being divided by it.

Best of all, employees in this kind of environment enjoy their work more and have much better job satisfaction. No one likes to be treated like a dog.