I love the unique perspectives about relationships, leadership, and culture that animals have to offer us. As humans, we can get quite stuck in our heads, thinking and staring at our own stories, identities, and egos. The animal lessons are tangible and straightforward. What you see is what you get. And if you spend a few minutes creating the bridge, you can marvelously apply the ways they live their lives to how we live ours, making some powerful adjustments that can create a huge difference.
I’ve lived with Border Collies for all of my adulthood. They’re working dogs that have been bred and trained for hundreds of years. Alongside the horses in my life, these dogs have taught me about natural leadership and how to apply my own instincts to human life and relationships.
So what do you do when you have a Border Collie? You learn how to herd sheep, of course! I’ve been doing it as a hobby for 25 years. That little fact is certainly a good ice breaker in awkward social situations and lulls in dinner party conversations! About ten years ago, I started training my dogs with an amazing mentor. His understanding of the way the dogs think is nothing short of genius and he has a very unique way of bringing out the best in humans too. He lives in an area near Sacramento with these incredible rolling hills, green in the winter and gold in the summer. It turned out that those hills provided the perfect natural classroom for me and my dogs.
It was out there on top of one of those hills that I got to see my dog learn the power of perspective. I had tried, for months, to teach him to focus on the whole flock but he would pick out one surly ewe and obsess about her. Meanwhile, the rest of flock was unattended and would begin to scatter. He would become frustrated and nearly every time, it would end with him dive-bombing the sheep, everyone going in different directions in complete chaos. We hit a wall in the training, and the scenario was becoming more routine, which meant it was in danger of becoming a habit. Once I had the hill to help, my dog had a different vantage point. He was able to see and experience the big picture. The hill taught him that staying back gave him a super power. If he kept a distance he could see more! He had scope.
You see, it’s hard to convince a dog, or any mammal for that matter, to let go of control. A Border Collie wants to manage a flock of sheep the same way a parent wants to manage children, a teacher with his/her students, or a VP with his/her team. In the world of leadership development, we often see power standoffs between individuals and problem areas in teams that look a lot like a tackle pile on a football field. The power of scope is underestimated. We see a problem and we are pulled into it. We react and jump in. But if we can learn to wait, to pause, we will actually see more and be able to strategize more effectively.
So the next time you face a challenge at home or at work, and you start to feel that obsessive pull toward it, imagine rolling hills covered in sheep. You know you have a bit of that Border Collie desire for control in you! We all do. Go to the top of the hill and give yourself the gift of scope.
- Am I too close to the problem?
- If I change my vantage point, will I get more information?
- Am I focusing on one part of the situation and missing the big picture?
- Am I about to blow things up by putting too much pressure on others?
Just a little space and time and a pause can make all the difference. As we say to our dogs when it’s time to stop: Lie down. That’ll do.