What you can learn about leadership from sled dog teams

Business networking legend Ivan Misner explains how business owners can glean some leadership tips from sled dog teams – something he witnessed on a recent dog-sled excursion.

Business networking legend Ivan Misner explains how business owners can glean some leadership tips from sled dog teams – something he witnessed on a recent dog-sled excursion.

 My wife and I had the opportunity to experience a dog-sled excursion while visiting the Ice Hotel in Sweden last year. While waiting to get onto the sleds and take off across the frozen river, we observed a very interesting behavior exhibited by the lead dogs in each dog team.

Virtually all of the dogs in the pack were leaping and straining against their harnesses, barking, yipping, howling and generally making quite a ruckus. However, Beth and I noticed that the lead pair in front of each of the sled teams was quietly sitting very still, keeping a close eye on the mushers. There may have been the occasional woof from one of the lead dogs, but they were mainly on full alert, silent, and attentive, waiting for the signal that it was time to move.

I sat there for many minutes watching and marveling at this dynamic. It struck me that this was a great metaphor for leadership in general. The lead dogs were observing and mostly silent despite the fact that all around them the rest of the pack was constantly barking, pulling, and straining on the lines. 

The lead pair in each team had a single-minded focus: wait for the signal so that they could lead the pack out onto the trail.

Great business leaders often do something similar. In business, sometimes people get excited about something or other and begin to strain and pull, noisily expressing their desire to move in a certain direction or take a specific action, NOW. Sometimes they do this very aggressively.

However, a good leader remains alert and attentive, not overreacting to the chaos all around them. They wait for the right time and the right cue to move forward.

Good leaders are ready to lead the team in the right direction for optimum success. They respect the process and provide trustworthy leadership themselves in the work environment. They know the right time to move ahead and the right time to sit tight. They know the difference, because they, or someone they trust, have been over these trails many times before. The team may get excited, anxious or even demanding, and still these strong leaders remain steady and calm.

We noticed another thing on that sled ride. When the lead dogs stood up and prepared to respond to the musher’s cue to run, the rest of the pack got quiet and settled down. They knew it was time to get to business. They were ready to pull in the same direction.

When a team is pulling in the same direction, following a strong and calm leader, who are themselves observing the cues from others or their own experience, the path of the team will be true and sound.

It struck me that this metaphor is perfect for business. Although any business owner may “bark” from time to time, it is the strong, calm, and confident business owner that is best at leading and getting a team to follow. The quality of the leader often determines the performance of the team.

Ivan Misner is the Founder and Chairman of global networking force BNI.

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