Dogs And Cows, And Whys and Hows

What a lovely Sunday morning walk across the beautiful Greenham Common in Berkshire! The former military airbase is now perfect for walkers and wildlife. And we’re supposed to be able to co-exist with nature, and not disturb the cows and the horses and the rabbits, right? Well, not today.

I’ve just seen a young dog run at speed into a herd of cows. Watched it head straight for the terrified young calf. And wondered what was going to happen next. Thousands of years of pack mentality meant the herd surrounded and protected the calf. And the aggressive dog suddenly lost interest. Nothing to see; nothing to do (thank goodness).

So WHY didn’t the dog’s owner know it would do that? And HOW could the dog run 100 metres headlong into something where it could get hurt or cause harm? The dog was obviously young. Boisterous and naive. Twitchy and excited. What happened was pretty predictable.

This struck me as being a metaphor for bad leadership of new and junior staff. Think of the dog’s owner as the leader, and the dog as a puppy; a new young member of a team. Someone with purpose, promise and potential. Someone that we’d say has raw talent.

But their hapless leader doesn’t know much about them. Doesn’t have a clue about how they will react in a challenging or stressful situation. And then watches, helpless as they run headlong into a negative experience that will undoubtedly harm their development, or a positive one that unfortunately leaves a trail of destruction behind them. Either way, the leader should have see it coming, or done something to limit the damage.

Your value as a leader is simple. As my wonderful colleague Denis Sartain would say, it’s about giving your people a sense of safety. Only when people feel safe can they adapt and thrive. And by “safe”, I don’t mean complacent. I  literally mean safe from harm. People definitely won’t feel safe if you let them rush into situations where they are ill-prepared. Don’t get me wrong; I like to stretch people. I recognise that people learn fast when they are required to sink or swim. But I like to keep my people safe, emotionally and physically.

So if you’re trying to grow your own talent, get to know your people, and think carefully about their individual development. Recognise the risks of putting your people into new situations. Reflect on how they think and what they will do. Rescue them when things are going wrong. Start doing this when people are young in business, and new to your team, and never, ever stop. Whether your people are early, mid or late career, the principles are just the same. People will love you for it, and you will really #standout.

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