Which dog are you? On leadership.

by on Jan.07, 2020 , under facilitative leadership

My once-co-worker E Gilliam shared this flowchart; she got it from this Twitter post by Blair Braverman. I’ve requested permission from Ms Braverman to share it here.

A sketch of a dogteam pulling a sled (no musher), above which a flowchart: 

Who would you be on a dog team? 
The questions are: 
When I see a puddle, I stomp through it. 
I'm OK being the weakest link. 
I have a strong prey drive. 
I can poop and run at the same time. 
I am cautious in new situations. 
Hard work is its own reward. 
I like most of my coworkers. 
I am stronger than I am fast. 
I help others before myself. 
I can keep a cool head in a crisis.
Sled dog flowchart

I have to read the question about pooping and running at the same time as a metaphor; without a pot of coffee and most of the New York Times, I’m doomed. But interpret the metaphor: can you make decisions about one thing while learning about another thing, on the run between meetings, while refilling your coffee mug and using your phone to book a conference room?

I also have to read the one about biting my coworkers as a metaphor. I’m an independent consultant, and sometimes I want to bite my coworkers. Fortunately I also have a dog and two cats on staff in support positions, and they usually find a way to distract me from any violence I have planned. But again, read it as a metaphor: in between bites, can you see what each dog contributes to the team? Can you see how even the dog whose leg you just ate is keeping the team going, if only by being the one whose sacrifice provides you protein?

I spent the first third of my career trying to avoid leadership positions, preferring to excel as an individual contributor than to be bogged down by idiots or expected to make decisions and set direction in the face of incomplete, flawed information. Asked to describe in one word my own leadership style, I offered, “Reluctant.”

Then came the day I left an orchestra concert (where I’d played principal/solo horn, and negotiated some tuning adjustments with my fellow wind principals) and encountered a traffic jam in the parking ramp caused by a violinist’s car’s breakdown. Without thinking about it, I stashed my horn in my car trunk, told the flautist to go wave the cars in line toward the other exit ramp, got a clarinetist and two trombone players to help me move the stalled violinist out of the lane, and then ran the violinist through a series of diagnostic questions to determine that I had no idea what was wrong with the car—but yes, she had called and a tow truck was en route. Her carpoolmate and she were comfortable waiting alone (broad daylight in downtown Oakland), so I got in my car and carried on to my day job.

I think I was halfway across the Bay Bridge before I noticed what had just happened, and realized that I’ve basically always been a natural leader (and a lousy follower).

Still, at work, I had persisted in avoiding increased leadership responsibility. After all, I was in the field of statistical software almost by accident. Why should I be calling any shots?

Because while I should be the last person to set product direction, I knew more about more of the pieces of the business puzzle than many others did, and I could see how they’d fit together better another way, and…

…or, as I explained it years later to direct reports whom I was encouraging toward leadership positions (and for some reason this resonated for them), “Look, you can either report to an idiot, or you can be the idiot.”

Being the idiot is much better.

If you’re a lead dog type, go ahead and lead.

The pack won’t resent you for being arrogant—they’ll appreciate having someone to follow. And just a hint: most people aren’t leaders, they’re followers, and while some of them will struggle with your leadership, that’s not a bad thing, and it doesn’t mean they want your job. They’re the ones who will help you see the flaws in your reasoning, generate alternative ideas, and force you to think more critically about your decisions.

Some followers will just work hard and keep things moving in the direction you set.

Others will be mostly benign, making smaller contributions but at least doing no harm.

Some will be dead weight that drags down the team, and your responsibility as a leader is to recognize and do something about that. Back to the sled dogs, an injured dog is suffering at least as much as the team he’s holding back, and you need to act decisively and humanely to end the suffering, one way or another—and if that sounds cruel, perhaps you didn’t consider the option of letting him ride in the sled in a pile of blankets all the way to a vet. Yes, all the remaining dogs have to work harder until you can return or replace the injured dog, or you’ll all slow down, but either of these options is better than keeping an injured dog at work on the team.

If your teams’ leaders need some help, give me a call.

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