What Can Dogs Teach Us About Team Leadership?

4 min read
May 16, 2022

Polco Communications & Marketing Director Angelica Wedell shares what she's learned about leadership from raising and training her pups.

– By Angelica Wedell -
Polco / National Research Center

Managers these days have weathered a lot. We’ve led our teams through new workplace norms and industry-wide shifts in employment. I’ve personally learned leaps this year about what it means to lead a growing, dynamic team here at Polco. And through all the world and workplace changes, I can honestly say some of my best team leadership lessons come from my dogs! 

Sure, Beau and Penny spend most of their days sleeping on the job. But as it turns out, the same strategies for happily trained pups also translate to productively engaged employees.

Penny and Beau Work

Clear, Concise, and Consistent Communication

A single word is all it takes to signal a command. Say, “Beau sit” and he knows exactly what to do. Blather on too much and he’s sure to be confused. After plenty of practice with short, clear commands, it’s amazing all a dog can do! 

Beau sitsThese same communication concepts work well for people too. Meetings hold attention and support goals much better when they stay on point and on time. Shorter meetings also free up time for project work. And why hold a meeting when a sweet, simple email or Slack would suffice? Consistent, clear, and concise communication improves understanding and creates wins for everyone. 

Fair Expectations and Compensation

Penny is a very smart dog. She’s figured out words I never even taught her. (Say, “Hungry” and she runs to the dinner bowl.) Smart as she is, it’s unfair to hold her accountable for commands she doesn’t know. If I want her to jump through hoops, I must train her first. If I want to reinforce hoop-jumping, I must “pay” her behavior with treats and praise. By keeping my expectations and compensation fair, Penny stays motivated and is more likely to achieve our goals long-term.

Smart Penny

I’ve been with Polco, helping local governments gauge and leverage public opinion data, for about seven years now. This year marks our record growth, bringing four new professionals to our marketing team alone within the past six months. So naturally, that means I do a lot of onboarding and training. 

It’s especially important for managers to understand each of their employees’ skills, meet training needs, and maintain fair expectations. I also believe in promoting competitive compensation, such as advocating a raise for those who deserve it. Holding true to these principles will help create the kind of workplace where people stay - and succeed - for years and years.

Recognition, Rewards, and Team Leadership

Rewarding my dogs for their good performances makes training fun for all of us. Beau and Penny love to work for treats. They prance and wag their tails with every “Good dog!” Recognition keeps us excited for the next training session. Marking and rewarding a dog is all about timing, to ensure they understand what exactly was good. Incorporating rewards and recognition on a daily basis motivates them to repeat good behaviors. And, as their trainer, it makes me feel proud of them. 

Recognition and rewards also motivate people. Our survey research on local government employees reveals that showing staff appreciation even helps improve retention. It’s important organizations show appreciation frequently, not just on holidays. If your staff works remotely, you may need to get a bit more creative than providing lunch for your team one day. 

indicators_staff_retention_local_government_graph

Polco leaders recently began to share gratitude with a new quarterly event, Polco Day! The morning features TED Talk-style keynotes and engaging group discussions. Staff then spend the afternoon going out and showing our communities some love. (Last time, I enjoyed a Town of Frederick art tour with a coworker and our dogs!)

Polco Day in Frederick

My teammates and I are high performers, and we work hard. When our organization sees and acknowledges our efforts, it drives a sense of accomplishment. I see these benefits with my dogs every day. And I see the same with my colleagues at work. 

As a manager, I’m well-positioned to influence the workplace culture. Who knew that a few team leadership lessons from a couple of rescue mutts would help so much?!

Penny and Beau Fall Pic

This article was originally published by ELGL

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