What Can Dogs Teach Us About Team Leadership?

Posted on May 12, 2022

Dogs and Team Leadership

Angelica WedellToday’s Morning Buzz is brought to you by Angelica Wedell, Director of Communications and Marketing at Polco / National Research Center. Follow Angelica on Twitter and LinkedIn.

What I’m Reading: The Book of Nice: A Nice Book About Nice Things for Nice People by Josh Chetwynd

What I’m Listening to: Stuff You Should Know

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! 

Working with dogs_Courtesy Angelica Wedell

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.

1. Clear, Concise, and Consistent Communication

Beau sits. Courtesy Angelica Wedell

A single word is all it takes to signal a behavior to a dog. 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 what all a dog can do! 

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

2. Fair Expectations and Compensation

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

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. 

I believe 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. I am convinced that holding true to these principles will help create the kind of workplace where people stay – and succeed – for years and years.

3. 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. As their trainer, it makes me feel proud of them too!

Indicators of staff retention in local government_Courtesy Polco

Recognition and rewards motivate people too! Our survey research on local government employees reveals that showing staff appreciation even helps improve retention. It’s important for organizations to 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. 

Polco leaders recently shared gratitude with a new quarterly event we call Polco Day! The morning features TED Talk-style keynotes and engaging group discussions. The afternoon devotes to going out and showing our communities some love. (I enjoyed a Town of Frederick art tour with a coworker and our dogs!)

Town of Frederick tour with dogs_Polco Day
Community appreciation with Angelica Wedell and Jessie O’Brien from Polco, Angela Wilson from the Town of Frederick, and dogs Olive and Penny!

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 too. 

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 are my dog team. Courtesy Angelica Wedell

Angelica Wedell is the Communications and Marketing Director for Polco / National Research Center. Polco brings accurate and reliable community feedback to local government leaders. Learn More About Polco and Career Opportunities

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