Thursday, 14 July 2011


Today is Basils birthday. He’s our 4 year old German Shorthaired Pointer and effectively our third child! This is a little tribute to him and an opportunity to share some insights he's given me on learning & leading.

What’s a GSP?
For those of you who don’t know what a GSP (German Shorthaired Pointer) is, here’s a brief explanation…

Originating funnily enough from Germany, the GSP emerged from deliberate cross breeding over 100 years ago. German estates found themselves shooting with kennels of dogs for different purposes and wanted a single breed that could do everything, principally Hunt Point & Retrieve (HPR). In particular they wanted a faithful companion that would be as happy at home with the family as out in the field shooting.

The GSP was brought back to the UK both in WWI and WWII by returning servicemen and is now the most popular HPR breed in the UK.

Basil is versatile and bred for that purpose, that is to hunt, point & retrieve as well as fit in with family life. He’s very intelligent (17th most intelligent breed apparently) and can multi-task. Ok not quite in the way my wife thinks but fundamentally he can do an awful lot.

Why write about a versatile dog?
Apart from the fact it’s Basils 4th birthday and he is very much part of our family life, Basil has taught me loads and continues to do so…

Fulfilling your Purpose
Basil is bred for a purpose, namely to Hunt, Point & Retrieve. When he fulfils this purpose, using the abilities he was bred for, he comes alive and is fully content. When he isn’t used for his purpose, regardless of the number of walks he gets, he becomes bored and unruly.

Makes sense really but think about this in the work context. If we’re doing what we truly desire to do we come alive. If we don’t we probably become bored and unruly.

What Am I?
Basil is our pet right? Yes, but we must see him as an animal first, a dog second and a pet last. Often the problems owners have with their dogs is down to them the wrong order of pet first, dog second, animal last.  The result? Indulged & confused dogs lacking the rules they need and unhappy and sometimes angry owners.

There’s something here about the workplace too. The people we work with are humans first but often organisations see the human last and the function first. Guess what the result often is? People who are indulged or confused, and unhappy and sometimes angry management.

You are my leader
There’s nothing stronger and more obvious than a dog looking to its owner for leadership. You can see them asking for it in their eyes. The role is demanded of you - undeniably. The only alternative is utter abandonment.

In the workplace, such expectation may not be obvious in the eyes of your team, but I think that if you look carefully enough you can see it. Nonetheless the role is demanded of you - undeniably. The only alternative is utter abandonment.

Actions speak louder than words
Training a gundog you become used to using a whistle for commands. This helps the dog hear you at a distance. Perhaps more importantly it takes all emotion out of what could have been a spoken command.

Dogs are attuned to your emotions and the hormones you produce. If you are stressed, even if you try to control your voice, the dog knows. He may even stay away from you. If you are calm and quiet, guess what? The dog pays even more attention to you.

Beyond voice, a dog will even read your body language – at the subtlest of levels. Basil looks for this direction. If I pay attention to a piece of ground, at a distance, he will notice this and go to cover that piece of ground. No voice or whistle required. He’s doing what he is best at and I’m supporting him with direction.

As humans we rely very heavily on the processing of spoken language, yet we can’t escape from the fact that we have intuitive ability to read peoples body language. In a leadership sense I think the parallels are clear :
·         Your role is to support the team with direction.
·         They are the specialists – let them do what they are best at.
·         Your spoken word always conveys more about you than just those words.
·         If you are calm and quiet, people will listen to you more attentively.
·         In close proximity, at some level people detect stress hormones such as cortisol.

Happy Birthday Basil!
So on Basils Birthday, I want to thank him for the lessons he teaches me and I hope some of the above prompts thought about what we can learn from the people we lead in the workplace. Happy Birthday friend!

If you’d like to find out more about HPR breeds and the GSP then I can recommend the following:

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Worlds Apart

Having put it off for some time, last weekend we finally succumbed to the attraction that is Disneyland Paris.

I have to confess that I can’t really be doing with large crowds and lengthy queues... life’s too short and they always seem to bring out the worst in humanity. However, it was the right time for the kids and a break in France was attractive.

Of course, we had a fantastic & exhausting time but this is not a review of Disneyland Paris. What I’d like to share are some reflections from the journey about the different “worlds” we inhabit...

Walts World
Walt & Mickey are clearly the kings immemorial of Disney. In the park, Walt stands proudly on a pedestal welcoming visitors telling us this is his kingdom, his creation. Alongside him and throughout the park appears Mickey. In fact, I’d even go as far as to say that Mickey wears the crown in Walts World.

Yet they play very little active parts in the rides and amusements. They are more like a standard or a symbol of what you can expect to experience. A standard and ethic that is visible everywhere saying loud and proud “This is who we are and this is what you can expect from us!”. You may not get a sense of the Disney organisation but you do get what you came for.

In Walts World they are the Masters of Delivery, providing pleasure on tap at a price.

Walloon World
Belgians are mad. Not my viewpoint but those of two lovely Belgian journalists we had dinner with en route at this fab hotel. Apparently, their Royal Family with the exception of the King are an embarrassment. There is no decision making government in place. The country is irreconcilably divided along French (Walloon) and Dutch (Flemish) lines in a perpetual stalemate.

Does all of this matter? Not really. The country ticks along fine. The journalists have something to write about. Tourists still come for the architecture, beer, chocolate & diamonds. The European Union makes them significant. Nothing is likely to change anytime soon.

In Walloon World they live happily, knowing that they are broken but unable to change.

Wantwit World
In the UK we like to think that we are considerate and fair. Yet regardless of nationality, when faced with the prospect of photographing their kids with Mr Incredible some parents turn into right Wantwits.

With no queue or ticket, they give themselves permission to thrust their kids to the front. It’s OK to trample others to pursue your own cause. A photo with a faceless actor, who is wearing a costume of a character from a cartoon, is more important than showing your child how to behave.

In Wantwit World only the selfish survive living off momentary & meaningless gratification.

Wonder World
OK, here’s the confession... There were rides that the kids wanted to do that both us parents were scared to do. On some occasions the height limits saved us, on others the 100 minute queue dissuaded everyone. However, you can’t always run away!

Together we tried different rides and attractions, learning what was fun and how little was in fact scary. We stretched ourselves and learnt together – you can read more of my thinking on this here. We trusted our sense of adventure and were not disappointed. We found wonder in our shared experiences.

In Wonder World unforgettable trust reigns. New experiences & difficult journeys are shared. Fears are overcome.

*Image by Wysinger at en.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons