The Advocate

Karen Pryor is the author of the marvelous book “Don’t shoot the Dog”. That’s about the craft knowledge of animal training and how to apply it to everyday life. She wrote a number of other books.

One of the things I learned from Karen’s books: You push inanimate objects but you must entice smart animals. Organizations are neither smart nor inanimate. They are so much harder.

In her book on managing an aquatic animal park she talks about the lessons she learned as a manager. Here’s a fun one.

She had a complainer/trouble maker in her group. He was smart and capable, but a real pain. Finally she couldn’t stand it anymore and she fired him and her reward was to learn this valuable lesson. That job is a role. In all groups somebody will take that job, or somebody will get volunteered to fill it.

I’ve often watched this pattern since then. The group is discussing what color to make the widget. After a while the boss Mr. B goes for the close. “Ok, blue sounds good.” There follows a pause. The team looks at each other. Finally Mr. A volunteers “Well, you know red is nice.” The audience relaxes ‘Ah great they all think – this will be fun to watch. ‘Debate is the sign of a healthy process that reaches good decisions.’ There follows a tiny debate between A and B and the audience urges them on in subtle ways.

Next time the boss says ‘Ok, lets do it.’ Everybody in the room leans back in their chairs and glances at Mr. A. Given this encouragement he finally draws himself up and falls into the role of defender-of-whatever.    ‘Well, you know …’.

I learned a lot from Karen. I highly recommend “Don’t shoot the Dog”.  By the way it explains how to avoid this problem, or if you’ve failed to avoid it how to resolve it.

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