Message not Medium

Posted on July 27, 2009

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KaiPortrait

Kai - flat-coat retriever/chow mix

Rustler - miniature poodle

Rustle - miniature poodle

When I managed the customer service team at Wizards of the Coast, we had a customer service rep who annoyed me. He was never on the same page as the rest of the team. A team member pointed out to me that I tended to disseminate information needed by the entire team via e-mail, and the annoying guy had trouble retaining information that he read. On the other hand, anything he heard he retained. I needed to change how I delivered my messages.

Years later, walking my dogs, I noticed that Kai responded almost instantly to touch. Whether I used my hand, my foot, or the leash (and watch Dog Whisperer on NGEO for how to correct a dog with a foot tap – not a kick!) to correct Kai, I re-set his focus and changed his behavior. Rustle, on the other hand, is built differently. If I attached a leash to his collar, he could just back out of the collar. So he wears a harness. As any dog-lover can tell you, the harness distributes contact with the leash over a wide area of the dog’s body. It makes the leash much less effective in correction. Also, Rustle is tiny. He weighs less than a tenth of what I do. I’m not correcting him with my foot. When I reach to touch him with my hand, the leash goes slack, and he assumes that means he can move forward, which is usually what I don’t want. On the other hand, he accepts voice correction very well.

To be a good pack leader, I had to learn what correction was effective with which dog. Similarly, as a leader, you should consider whether your direct report is being deliberately dense or recalcitrant, or if he (or she) needs to get your message in a different way. I’m not advocating kicking people! Just don’t assume that because you told the team something in e-mail, or in a meeting, everyone got your message.

Now get out there and lead!

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Posted in: Leadership