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The 3 Manager Dog Breeds

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When it comes to managing your team are you a Sheepdog, Golden Retriever or a Greyhound? 

By Elaine Wherry (Co-founder & CXO, Meebo)

I know the names of more dogs than people in my neighborhood. Being a dog lover, I started identifying managers with three dog breeds years ago: the Sheepdog, Golden Retriever, and Greyhound. Like the three dogs, we tend to manage our teams by protecting, pleasing and doing. However, when taken to extremes, our good intentions and natural instincts can lead us astray. Here's a synopsis of the three manager dog breeds and what to watch out for.

Sheepdog (the "Protector") med-05Sheepdog managers are protective by nature. They love hierarchy, honor and developing foolproof plans. Once the sheepdog is on your side, you won't find anyone more loyal or dependable. However, the desire to protect and defend the team leads to a few pesky habits:
  • Says no a lot. The Sheepdog says no, no, no until convinced there's no risk to saying yes. After a while, people figure out how to get things done without the Sheepdog's approval and this lack of respect for boundaries makes the Sheepdog furious!
  • Hates change. The Sheepdog's role is to make sure everything goes as planned. After all, change brings unpredictability and potential failure! As a result, people avoid difficult conversations with the Sheepdog until the change is certain. Now the Sheepdog is the last to know everything! Grrrr...
  • Implements unnecessary rules and procedures. If you want to work with the team, you have to run it by the Sheepdog first. This leads to email lists, approval forms, weekly task meetings and other forms of bureaucracy. The Sheepdog might know what's going on but everyone else is clueless. The Sheepdog is okay with that.
  • Avoids working with other teams.  The Sheepdog prefers to stand its ground and fend off intruders. If you want to collaborate with the Sheepdog, you have to convince the Sheepdog that the current non-collaborative plan is ineffective. Proactively reaching out just to see if there might be ways to help each other is crazy.
Golden Retriever (the "Pleaser") med-04The Goldie wants one thing: to please, please, please. Goldies love being involved and keeping team morale high. Goldies are great at developing team cohesion, seeing the best in others and taking everyone's opinions into account. You probably have the best team tees and inside jokes if you work for a Goldie. However, the Goldie is surprised when their desire to please everyone somehow makes people unhappy!
  • Can't make tough calls. The Goldie just wants to say yes. This leads to flip-flopping, delayed decision-making and postponing unpopular work to keep everyone happy. The Goldie wonders, "Isn't there a plan that makes everyone happy all the time? Maybe the team should just vote? Maybe the issue should be escalated? Guys, I don't know -- what do you think we should do?"
  • Cliquish. The Goldie love to play and tend to combine work with fun: one-on-ones over foosball, happy hour post-mortems and coffee meeting planning sessions. As a result, Goldie's tend to gravitate towards people with the same social habits as their own. But if you don't like playing Goldie ball, watch out!
  • Can't give hard feedback. Everything is super wonderful according to the Goldie. Team members might have to read between the lines for real feedback, "Everything is great. If I were to change one tiny thing, I might consider taking a look at this small issue that you probably didn't even do intentionally and I didn't even notice at first. Actually, it's really okay and I'll let you know if it becomes a real problem." The Goldie is shocked when their team members say they aren't getting individual coaching!
  • Unintentionally throws people under the bus. When a Goldie needs to finally deliver tough feedback, it's easier to say, "Listen, I think you're amazing. Of course, I love what you're doing. But the exec team wants me to pass along this hard feedback. I know this is tough and I'm really, really sorry!" Whoops! Now the Goldie has introduced politics! 

Greyhound (the "Doer")
The Greyhound loves learning, problem solving and questioning the impossible. They were promoted because of their exceptional domain expertise, but now they believe that the team just can't get it done without them. However, the converse is true. The team could do anything if the Greyhound Manager would just focus on managing the team and would resist the urge to jump into the team's tasks!

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  • Hates delegating. The Greyhound doesn't realize that you inspire the team by doing the manager job well -- not by proving that you could do your team's job better.
  • But that's not my way! The Greyhound is accustomed to being the thought-leader. When someone proposes a new execution plan, the Greyhound can't help but show some skepticism, "Well... we can try it your way first but just so you know, this is how I would personally do it!"
  • Runs to the emergency. The Greyhound needs little excuse to drop all manager duties and dive into the day-to-day -- especially an emergency! However, they fail to recognize that one fire is frequently followed by another fire. As a result, the Greyhound gets embroiled in emergencies and the team loses its leader when they need one the most.
  • Goes stir crazy. Sometimes a manager doesn't have any formal tasks to do except respond to emails, be available to the team, and think. To the poor Greyhound, that sounds like, "You want me to sit at this desk all day and do absolutely nothing? Worst thing ever!"
  • Poor time management. If the Greyhound's day is filled with meetings, email, and helping team members, it's only at night that they get "real work" done. The Greyhound will burn out or drop important issues if they continue to work two full-time roles. How can folks be upset with them when it's clear the Greyhound is trying so hard! No one else tries as hard as a Greyhound!

Which breed of manager are you?