5 Things I Learned About Leadership Agility from My Dog

I was recently in a leadership role that found us reacting to huge shifts in the marketplace and needing to quickly adjust to new market drivers. Leadership agility can be defined as “the ability to take effective action in complex, rapidly changing conditions”.  For the past 18 months my favorite hobby has been attending dog agility classes with our two year old poodle. Here is what I learned about leadership agility from our boy, “Theo”.

1.  Choose the right breed.  We sought out a poodle for numerous reasons, but his athleticism and intelligence were the reasons he was “hired”.  Theo is the typical aspiring new hire or high-potential employee; energetic and highly motivated to impress. One of the best ways to channel all that energy is to play to one’s inherent strengths.  Recruiting or promoting employees with the desired core competencies is important to setting them up for success.

2.  Physical, mental and emotional obstacles exist throughout the agility course. The agility course consists of jumps, tunnels, weaves, teeter-totters, raised planks and other physical and mental obstacles. The dog is directed, guided, and rewarded by the handler using voice, movement and body cues. Coaching talented individuals going into a project and throughout its course positions the leader as a trusted partner and resource.

3.  Leaders convey a vision of the way forward.  A leader’s ability to cast a clear vision, give discernible cues at each obstacle along the course, and trust in the team’s ability to succeed are imperative to creating a culture of success.

4.  Use higher value rewards as difficulty progresses. Early on during the agility classes a high value treat is offered for each hurdle conquered. But as time progresses, the rewards are less frequent and eventually done away with all together.  The joy of running the course with more accuracy and speed is the greatest reward.  What motivates high performing team members early in the process will not be as effective as the project moves forward. High performing individuals and teams gain fulfillment from projects that inherently serve a greater purpose.

5.  Remain coachable. The classes are not about how well “Theo” performs, but how agile I am at learning new techniques to guide him through the course successfully. Team performance is an indispensable indicator (sometimes the only indicator) of the areas where a leader really needs to focus on their own development. Remaining teachable and learning new methods to coach high performing individuals and teams through challenges in the fast paced corporate environment are key to becoming an agile leader.

What are you and your leadership team doing to remain agile and coachable? How do you lead your high performing individuals and teams to even greater levels of success?


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