#22 Tips for Being Herded Effectively

by | Apr 20, 2009 | Blog | 0 comments

You can’t choose your relatives. And if you’re a LEAN Communicator who’s short on staff, budget and other resources, you seldom can select your co-workers. You must work with your current colleagues; you can’t hand off the responsibility to others.

So what if you’re paired with someone who’s really difficult to work with? Such as a human Border Collie? Human Border Collies—just as the four-legged dogs—are intelligent, energetic and intense. They thrive on herding people and objects, watching them with an intense gaze known as the “eye“. The AKC calls Border Collies “the workaholics of the dog world.” These can be admirable traits in dogs and humans.

Jake of the Good Solutions legal team

However, if you’re trying to juggle multiple tasks, support many leaders, and manage your schedule tightly as so many of us LEAN Communicators are required to do, you’re bound to have challenges working with a human Border Collie. When you’re in a Border Collie’s herd, you’ve got basically no time for rest, respite or rejuvenation—or your other responsibilities. They’re watching you, on your case to follow through on their particular orders.

Unless you adopt some specific coping mechanisms, you’re always on the move, jumping higher and higher. If you’re like many of us, it’s often easier to succumb to their wishes rather than disobey their commands. And if you don’t watch it, you could start to let your other work suffer, especially if your other projects and teammates are less hyper than the Border Collie.

Over the years, I’ve been paired with several Border Collies. Through trial and error, I’ve discovered five ways to work together for a peaceful, effective co-existence. These are:

1. Work virtually. As much as possible, try to work away from the herding eye. Some of this is “out of sight, out of mind,” although Border Collies have excellent memories and follow-up techniques. On your own, you can at least get your work done without them physically circling you. Then try to volunteer status reports before you’re asked. And certainly respond quickly when they ask for updates. That will keep you on their good side. And you may be able to stay on your long leash indefinitely.

2. Give them work to do. Border Collies like to work non-stop. The human kind never seems to want to declare a document, process, or project finished, even for the night. (For example, one of my Border Collie co-workers recently asked me before she got on an airplane to print a dozen copies of a document that we’d work with the next day. When I saw her 13 hours later with the printed documents, they were obsolete in her mind. She had revised the document four more times on the plane ride.) Based on that and other experiences, I now consider all of my work with Border Collies to be very iterative. This means I share first drafts that are 70 – 80% finished, rather than taking the time to perfect them from my perspective. I know the Border Collie will work them over thoroughly, so why expend my time and energy? While my work may not be up to my full potential, it’s a good starting point for the Border Collies to chew on and develop.

3. Fill in the gaps. Quietly, almost stealth-like, pick up the loose ends to help them, the project and you keep on track. For instance, some of the Border Collies I work with are herding so many different groups that they sometimes forget about the basics. For instance, they neglect to keep people informed about who’s doing what, explain their system for managing all the document versions, and schedule necessary meetings and events for the upcoming weeks. If you can do this behind the scenes, you can keep everything moving without any stampedes or other problems.

4. Recognize them. “(Good work on INSERT SPECIFIC)” instead of “Good dog.” They may not start eating out of your hand or cut you much slack, but they will appreciate you in return.They like knowing that you are fully aware that they’re working hard.

5. Co-exist, don’t compete. Or, at least don’t compete with them head-to-head in their sweet spots. You’ll be able to reserve your energy and resources for your important actions and avoid any dog fights or tussles. (The late Tomas who was a process master, was an expert at this. When his friend Fergus the Border Collie came over for dinner parties with his humans, Tomas stayed under the table and watched for food to drop to the floor to grab. He totally ignored Fergus who always cajoled dinner guests into rolling a ball for him around the house. To Tomas, finding delicious food was a more important priority than chasing a ball.)

Border Collies are kind, charming, and friendly—in addition to being overachievers. (This describes Jake, pictured above, who provides the Good Solutions legal team with “hard-core, Border Collie assessment and critical thinking.” You can reach Jake at jake@goodsolutions.com



In the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit a client told me after a recent offsite that she “appreciated my gentle herding of their team.” But I knew when to stop because I’m not a purebred. And I still got the job done with everyone happy at the end.

What types of challenging colleagues/breeds do you work with? And what successful coping mechanisms have you adopted?


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