Emotional Intelligence: Don’t Hire a Dog and Then Bark Yourself

Originally published March 14, 2018 by The Montrose Daily Press

“Don’t hire a dog and then bark yourself.” –David Ogilvy

The sentiment of this quote is very direct: If you have hired someone to do something, then get out of the way. Somewhere in a fancy management textbook, we learned that being “in charge” means we must be all knowing and all controlling of everything that happens within our purview. True? Or is there an alternative approach?

Few things provide a sense of security and value to a staff member than feeling like a vital part of the organization. When employees believe their work is paramount to the organization’s success, it will manifest itself in their performance, attitude and loyalty.

There are two very important parts of this equation. First, when hiring someone into a position, it is important to make sure the person and the position are suited for one another. Second, once he or she is in the right job, make sure you don’t do the barking. If you have hired someone to do something, refrain from “taking the wheel” and thus belittling your staff member’s skill and value.

How to stop barking:

1. Decide not to hire a dog, and do the barking yourself. If a certain aspect of your business is really important to you and you feel the need to have a say and control over every detail of how it is handled, then perhaps you should. And perhaps you shouldn’t. A boss who swoops in and ramrods the operation whenever the mood strikes can be soul-crushing to an employee. If, as a boss, you literally “can’t put it down”, then don’t hire someone to do it. Rather hire someone to do all the other things consuming your time so you can focus on what you find important.

2. Be a leader. That being said, consider the true purpose of your own position. If you are a small business owner, you most likely wear a hundred different hats. Regardless, if you have a staff big or small, the single most important hat you’ll ever wear is “leader.”

Several years ago, I applied for the CEO position at an organization where I was currently employed. Our current CEO was retiring. I discussed my decision with him and told him I was concerned about my lack of knowledge of the in certain parts of the business. He then gave me some great advice: “Being the CEO is of any organization is less about the technical knowledge and more about the people you employ. The most successful CEOs are the ones who are strong leaders. The rest can be learned or delegated.” Ultimately I was not hired for the position, but the lesson was not lost on me: Focus on leadership, people skills, and relationships. If you need to hire a dog, then do it. And let that person do the barking while you focus on making their world a better place.

3.Reverse engineer job descriptions. Job descriptions are necessary. You should have a starting point of qualities and qualifications the ideal candidate will possess. By keeping this list loose and malleable, you allow for the (great) unknown. Perhaps the right person doesn’t have the education you require or the number of years’ experience. By automatically washing them up front, you could be missing out.

An employee with passion and curiosity for learning is far greater than someone who meets all the check boxes. Consider creating a loose job description and then reverse engineering it once you have the right person working for you. Things have a way of working themselves out and every change or new position in an organization is an opportunity to push the boundaries and find new ways of doing things. Don’t box yourself in through a set list of expectations. Allow your team to push the limits. Ask them how they feel about their job, what makes sense about their duties and what doesn’t. Ask what else they like to take on and what they would like to stop doing (you may not be able to say yes, but at least you now have their perspective and perhaps you’re able to work toward a better solution down the road).

Trusting another person to do quality work for your business is a risk. The product put out can have a direct reflection on you, as well as your leadership ability. Yet, a far greater risk is the result of controlling every aspect of how your team does the job. If you aren’t careful (and you do all the barking), you could end up with a bunch of mediocre robot dogs who never bark, never seek new ideas, and never stay. End result? A big fat helping of opportunity left on the table.

Chelsea Rosty is the executive director of the Montrose Chamber of Commerce and director of Business Innovation for the City of Montrose. Contact her at chelsea@montrosechamber.com.