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Leading by Fergi – Lesson #1; What’s Most Important (and it’s not me)

summer bonfire smLike most of you, every day I’m learning something new about what it really takes to be a great leader.  I’ve invested a staggering amount of time and money reading and taking classes, I’ve applied what I’ve learned successfully and not so successfully, and – as cliché as it sounds – I’ve learned most from the failures.

But when I think about what’s been the most impactful on my development, hands down, it’s been the mentors who have guided me and shared their expertise and experiences.  My mentors have included business partners, bosses, peers, family, and (get ready for it…) my dog, Fergi.  Fergi is a 7-year-old English springer spaniel.  While playing, training, and competing in the sport of AKC agility, she’s taught me some valuable lessons about communication, teamwork, and leadership.  And the correlation between my experiences with Fergi and the business world has “blog” written all over it.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with this sport, agility requires a dog and a dog handler to negotiate an obstacle course, racing against a clock and completing the obstacles correctly and in the designated order (sounds a little ridiculous, but most participants will say that agility is addicting, expensive, and amazingly fun!)  Fergi and I started training together when she was 7 months old.  From the start, agility energized her.  All she wanted was to please me by completing the obstacles and the course correctly.  With such great potential at such a young age, she was eager to learn, motivated, and ready to work.  She had a strong drive and she learned quickly.  I had high hopes for her, and so I pushed her to achieve greatness.  Soon, I got frustrated when she didn’t perform to my expectations, and her drive began to fade.  So, I pushed harder.  And, surprise, surprise, things got worse, not better.

Sound familiar?  Your new hire is smart, talented, motivated.  You see big things in their future—so you accelerate.  How is that working for you?  It didn’t work for me, either.  Thankfully, I had a teacher, my friend Tina, who didn’t hold back in giving me the feedback I needed to make some adjustments to my leadership style. I realized that I let the potential of what could be (more wins, more ribbons, more success) take precedence over what Fergi really needed to achieve the vision.

When I took a few steps back to reassess Fergi’s needs and how I could support her learning, it didn’t take long for us to get back on track.  I learned three important lessons:  1. A star performer with strong drive and motivation doesn’t require less support.  It’s important to lead people from where they are, considering both motivation and competence.  2. Progress doesn’t always mean continuous forward movement.  Sometimes, progressing requires that we stop, step back, revisit the fundamentals, and then, continue moving forward.  3. Leading is not (absolutely NOT) about us.  It’s about the people (and dogs) we are leading.  Take your eyes off that ball, and that’s when things will go sideways.  And here’s my brave bold Fergi statement:  these three lessons apply to everyone—whether you’re a leader of a 3-person team or a CEO running a $5 billion organization.  Support your people, revisit the fundamentals, and remember that success requires people first.

Stay tuned, next blog topic:  Fergi’s teachings about trust

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