Coaching Employees: Lessons From the Dog

coaching employees Coaching

Coaching Employees: Lessons From the Dog

We dog owners sure do love our fur children. So much so that we tend to let them do whatever they want. Let them enjoy their life! Many people have told me their dog is in charge in the house rather than the humans. I used to be in that camp as well until my two dogs started fighting with each other. But, after watching many episodes of Dog Whisperer and visiting a local professional, I now prevent fights by coaching them to behave how I want them to behave. Believe it or not, a similar model can be applied to coaching employees.

In some ways it should be easier to coach a human than a dog because the human speaks the same language. But human behavior is much more complex, so it’s not. Even so, there are some basic principles that you may be using with your dog that can also be applied to humans for employee coaching. After all, the findings of Pavlov are a staple in learning theory for a reason.

If possible, go grab your pup and curl up with him/her to read these five principles that apply to coaching employees as well as your dog.

Make your expectations clear when coaching employees.

Dogs develop expectations by following a routine. Ask for the same thing every day and they will eventually learn to do it before you ask.

Luckily with people we can tell them our expectations. Well at least we should! If you’re coaching someone, she should know how you expect meetings to be set up, how often, how you want to communicate, what key information you’d like to review in your meetings, and so forth. It’s fine to put the ball in her court on a regular basis, but she needs to know that is your wish.

Watch your tone and body language.

In my pack leader training I learned to use a firm tone rather than a soft or high-pitched one to get the response I want from the dogs. I also learned to stand tall when communicating my message as a means of establishing authority. Different tones and stances convey different messages.

The same principle applies to people. When coaching employees, use the tone that emphasizes the message you are trying to convey, and make sure your body language compliments the message rather than conflicting with it. Check out this quick video for some tips on how to do this.

Different strokes for different folks.

My two dogs are completely different. One is needy, the other is aloof. One likes the daily walks more than the other. So I don’t try to force them against their preferences without good reason.

Likewise, employees should not be forced to participate in development work they are not genuinely interested in. It’s one thing to help people push outside their comfort zone,  but another to mandate participation in something purely for the sake of it. In the end it will just be a waste of time.

Balance between oversight and taking over.

Not all dog owners are responsible ones. Sometimes their dogs get off leash or are uncontrollable while on leash. My rescue dog has serious anxiety and can’t handle meeting some dogs. But sometimes he can and it’s good for him to do so. I monitor his interactions closely when he meets other dogs and  quickly remove him as soon as I see the warning signs.

This is tougher to do when coaching employees but still possible provided the expectation has been established. For example, when I’ve coached junior consultants to deliver assessment feedback, I attended their meetings to observe their behavior and let them fumble around a bit to the degree that they were learning what to do and what not to do in the future. I jumped into the conversation only when the message truly needed clarification.

Know the motivational drivers.

Both my dogs are motivated by food. They’ll do anything for banana, peanut butter, popcorn, and even their regular kibble. I knew Rover was hurt when he didn’t flinch when I picked up a banana.

When coaching employees, sometimes they will need some inspiration. You need to know what they will pay attention to as well as what to avoid. I recall a time I was coaching a manager and thought I was bonding with him by pointing out similarities between his own leadership style and his that of his father, a well-regarded executive in the same organization. After the meeting I learned from my own coach that making the connection between this manager and his dad was actually a sore spot for him. Oops! Now I know I should have made effort to find out that sort of information before the meeting.

Question of the day: What coaching lessons have you experienced from your dog? Or cat or bird or monster pet? Share them in the comments!