Stories, Leadership and Trust
Amongst the brilliant sessions at our first Discovery Day in London was one from Andrew Kitton about creating compelling stories. My action point from the session was to use the approach to write this week’s blog. So, here goes.
The point I wanted to make is that leadership is about letting go and trusting others. And when I thought about this learning point, the story that sprang to mind was about my dog, Charlie.
Charlie is a bit of a celebrity in Teignmouth, partly because he’s often not on the lead, which makes carrying shopping much easier! He walks ahead of me, but he will never, ever cross a road without sitting. Over a couple of days last week, I tried to remember to video him in action, so you can see what I mean. (Apologies for the poor cinematic quality!)
Of course, Charlie’s skills weren’t acquired overnight! From the day he came home from the RSPCA, I began the process of teaching him to stop at the kerbs. This involved never crossing a road, regardless of how empty it was, until he’d sat. (This behaviour is now so ingrained in us too that we often forget we don’t have to wait at the kerbside when we don’t have the dogs!)
There came a day when I first let go of the lead and let it trail on the road as Charlie walked beside me. Gradually, as his confidence grew, and my confidence in him grew, the lead became more and more unnecessary. Eventually, I no longer needed it at all, and no longer needed to worry if he was ahead of me. I know I can trust him completely – I get far more jittery when I see parents with young children running ahead of them!
Late in 2017, our family gained another member; when I surprised my partner with a puppy for his 40th birthday. You can just see Dottie in the first part of the video.
A few weeks ago, my partner returned from their walk, with a huge grin. “Dottie has just walked all the way up the hill, without me holding her lead”, he said. It was a proud moment and since then, she’s continued to progress in leaps and bounds. Two things have struck me about Dottie’s journey: One has been Charlie’s curious response. When we’re not holding Dottie’s lead, he hangs back and doesn’t walk far ahead. The other has been Dottie’s obvious pride – she genuinely looks ridiculously pleased with herself every time she’s trusted to walk ‘off the lead’.
People might wonder why we go to all this effort. Here are some reasons:
- Having such well-trained dogs makes our lives with them easier and more enjoyable.
- They gain mental stimulation – as important, in my view, as physical exercise.
- Our dogs get a huge sense of pride and achievement from a job well done – as of course, do we.
- We’re releasing their potential and helping them become the amazing family members they can be. (We’re always trying to think of new things to teach them.)
- It keeps them safe. (Years ago we had a dog that ran away from the boarder because she knew we were going away. We found her on our front step, which she'd had to cross the busy A59 to reach. A local retired police man who lived near the junction later told us about how he'd seen her trotting up the road and then sitting at the pedestrian crossing and waiting to cross. The training had probably saved her life.)
None of this would have been possible of course, if we hadn’t, when the time was right, been prepared to demonstrate trust and ‘let go’. Similarly, as leaders of people, we have to be prepared to let go, let people take ownership of a challenge and above all, trust them: it’s the only way to truly release potential.
Sadly, Dottie’s training in Teignbridge, where we currently live, will have to be curtailed because as of yesterday, in a demonstration of the exact opposite of trust, Teignbridge council introduced a plethora of new rules for dog owners, including rules that state dogs can no longer be walked off the lead next to roads, on cycle ways or even on footpaths that run alongside a designated road. Whilst I understand councillors’ reasons for wanting to create yet more rules, it’s a shame, nonetheless.
But more on that, micro management and transactional analysis next week….
In the meantime, as you’d expect, we’ve got some great materials on Leadership, including The Leadership Identikit, which has been newly updated by Frances. You can find more information about this module and our Discovery Days on the Trainers' Library website. (I'm not allowed to include links to our own website in this blog.)