Cats, dogs, leadership, and learning

This is Flicker.Photo of an orange-and-white cat partially hidden by a laptop screen

Also known as The Flickerator.

He’s an excellent trainer of humans.

His specialty is Stupid Human Tricks. He’s taught me to …

  • Open the sliding door onto the deck to let him out
  • So he can go around the house and come up to my office window and ask to come in
  • So I open the window and let him in
  • So he can go through my office and into the bedroom
  • So I’ll open the sliding door onto the deck to let him out.

Rinse and repeat.

And if I don’t pay attention, he harasses the dog until … I pay attention. I’m a well-trained human.

(Yes, the 63-pound dog is afraid of the 9-pound cat.)

Photo of an orange-and-white cat sniffing the paw of a Golden Doodle that is carefully ignoring the cat

Speaking of the dog, we took her to puppy school, where we learned that training happens on both ends of the leash.

She’s an exceptionally good and well-trained dog. And we’ve learned smart human tricks to keep rewarding her good behavior.

Here’s the thing: we all learn stuff throughout our lives.

And if we’re not intentionally teaching what we want people to know, well, you just might end up with stupid human tricks. Otherwise known as managers who are doing their best, but who were – as a client described just this morning – thrown in the deep end without knowing how to swim – or how to manage a team.

The question is, what are you teaching your first-line managers?

They’re going to learn how to manage, one way or another. But will they learn what you want them to learn?

One thing you – if you’re the manager of first-line managers – can do

Catch your first-line managers doing the right things.

You know what good management behavior looks like. (At least, I hope you do!)

Not to equate people-training and dog-training (though I’ll reiterate that dog training is always about the dog and the human ends of the leash!), but positive rewards work. We toss treats to the dog; you can give compliments to your people.

I mean that extremely sincerely. The more you catch your first-line managers doing the right thing, and then tell them about it, the more they’ll … do the right thing. We humans want recognition, acknowledgement, and appreciation from the people around us, especially those who have authority over us.

And one thing you – if you’re the first-line manager – can do

Think about the best manager you’ve ever had. Write down the three to five qualities you most admire about them. Those qualities don’t have to be specific to management or leadership; just things you really felt made them a good person.

Next, write down three to five things they did that demonstrated those qualities. Identify at least one action for each quality.

Now think about the worst manager you’ve ever had. Write down the three to five things they did that demonstrated how they struggled at being a manager.

Note that I’m not saying “qualities”; I’m referring to actions they took – or didn’t take. Why? Because I firmly believe that we are mostly not dealing with people who are deliberately mean. But when we think of someone whose style or behavior we don’t like, we’re usually tempted to make it “all about them” personally. And that’s not helpful.

You now have two lists: one on the good side of management behavior, and the other on the sad side.

What can you do, today and every day, to be most like the good side, and less like the sad side? Identify actions you can take – actions that fit who you are and the people you manage.

And then hold yourself accountable, every day, for living up to those behaviors.

In this way, you’re consciously and intentionally teaching yourself smart management and leadership – instead of defaulting to whatever reactions and habits you may unconsciously fall into.

It’s not an exact science

I’ve often said that leadership is a big fuzzy gray ball of uncertainty. Learning to manage and lead is a winding path with many opportunities for tripping over the unexpected.

Giving fledgling managers the opportunity to learn well – which includes making mistakes while having the support to recover effectively – is rewarding for all concerned – including the organization’s bottom line.

Teaching leadership skills to first-line managers doesn’t have to be expensive, time-consuming, or a case of “throw them in the deep end and let them figure it out.” Click here to learn more.