Going through a tunnel can lead to success

This was taken last year when Grace was learning to go through the tunnel. As you can see, she was perfectly happy to stay outside of it!

The jumps are so easy for Grace. She looks like a ballerina effortlessly springing over the hurdles. She knows it, too. She’ll leap over the bar whenever she even gets close to a jump, whether I say “Jump!” or not. It’s fun for her and she’s good at it.

Returning to agility class last Friday was gratifying. Grace picked up as if we hadn’t been away from it at all. Her tail was up and wagging and she pranced around the room as if she owned it. Almost too much…. She got a little snippy with a very beautiful and kind dog as they met for the first time. I imagine Grace just assumed she was Queen of All Agility and didn’t want to share the space with anyone else. (It’s a bit embarrassing when you have an ill-mannered child in public.) She also whined obnoxiously when the trainer, Rachel, was explaining the next round of skills we’d be practicing. She couldn’t quite figure out why we were sitting and talking while she could be out jumping! Patience is not one of Grace’s strengths. But given how far she has come, I was so tickled watching her perform, but more importantly witnessing her enjoyment in the moment.

One of our exercises was for Grace to use discretion on her next move. In agility, the handler has to control (or should I say, attempt to control) where the dog goes next. Good handlers will direct well. Good dogs will execute well. It’s no different from being in a workplace, where it takes strong leadership to direct, in combination with competent, talented followers who execute.

In this particular event, there was a tunnel entrance placed directly beside the A-frame. I was to direct Grace to go to the piece of equipment that I intended, using visual and verbal cues. The A-frame is one of her favorites; she enjoys her ease in bounding over the incline, (dogs are supposed to slow down upon exit of it–now that’s a test!). Grace loves to run fast so when she sees the A-frame, she gets excited, ready for action. It’s not that she doesn’t like the tunnel, just easier to go up the A-frame instead of entering a closed tube. Even if she heard the word ‘tunnel’ coming out of my mouth, chances are good she would run up the A-frame, just because it’s more fun! Again, I know this happens at the office; people tend to gravitate to those activities they enjoy over ones that are less interesting to them if they can get away with it.

When working through this exercise, she did quite well. Much more often than not, she went where I asked her to go. If I wanted her to go inside the tunnel, I physically moved closer to the tunnel, almost blocking the A-frame. She could have edged around me to go up if she really wanted to, but she entered the tunnel. Going up the A-frame was always easy, all I needed to do was a simple upward signal of my hand in that direction and she was off and running. Some dogs love the tunnel, though, so you have to find ways to entice the animal, taking into account their individual preference and then create the precise motivation to do the “right” thing. As Rachel said, “We need to set up the dog for success; don’t even put them in a situation where they will fail.”

I believe those are very important words of advice for any organizational leader. We need to create an environment for success for employees, and that might mean different things for different employees, even if they are in the same role. What can you do to help your employees be in a position of success?

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4 comments

  1. didiwright says:

    Grace has come far since last year’s photo. It sounds like the tunnel will never be her favourite ‘apparatus’, but she’s learnt to accept that going through it is part of her ‘job’. And somehow, you’ve found a way to motivate her to do that. I guess that’s where the difficulty is: finding the thing that motivates you (or others) to do something you (or they) are not particularly keen on but have to do in order to achieve your (their) goals. What works for me, personally, is keeping my eye on the finish line and the ultimate goal of what I’m aiming for. If it’s worth going through the tunnel, then I’ll do it 🙂

    • Thanks, Didi. Grace has come a long way and it’s so rewarding to watch. I like the way you have a good understanding of motivating yourself. I find that when people have that knowledge, they are more successful in overcoming any hurdles that get in their way.

  2. Amy Pfeil says:

    Leadership is the issue, isn’t it? For so many things. And teamwork, because you and Grace make quite a team! Reading signals, making hard things easier, encouraging and knowing who you’re dealing with, all vital. Thanks for this one, your blogs always make me think!

    • Amy, what a clear summary of this, thank you! One of the toughest things we can do to make communication most effective is to read the subtle signals from each other and respond appropriately. Now you have made me think! Thank you.

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