Leaders Library: The power is in the stories

This month, our book club read Don’t Shoot the Dog by Karen Pryor. I’m happy to say that not everyone enjoyed the book. Why does that make me happy? Because I think they enjoyed it less than Flourishing Enterprise: The New Spirit of Business, which I recommended, so now I have company. Seriously, while Pryor’s book was a tough read, the messages were so powerful. It’s a book on human behavior, psychology and the power of positive reinforcement.

Positivity is key—but it can be hard
Pryor focused on a concept called “behavior shaping” and how this is best done, not through punishment, but with positive reinforcement. The concept resonated with all of us. It didn’t hurt that one of us trained dogs for five years as a career and had real life stories to share about the concepts, how they worked and what he learned. I admire people who have pets that are well trained. Mine are not. My kids even suggested we have my colleague over to train our dogs!

The book really struck a chord with everyone and especially those of us with kids (both human and animal). I think as we try to shape the minds, hearts and character of our young ones, we all aspire to do it in a positive fashion. But honestly, while we aspire to do it through positive reinforcement, most of us find ourselves slipping into a dialogue with our kids of “do not do this, do not do that or else.” Not a very positive approach. The reflection was humbling but honest.

Each of us shared stories from our personal life about how we were trying to shape behaviors of those we love. The fear of getting it wrong and the irritation of the behavior not changing “fast enough” haunt us all. Although some struggled to finish the book, across the board there was a genuine interest in the key concepts of the book and their practical applications.

7 lessons to remember going forward
So what did I learn? I had several takeaways:

  1. Shaping behavior takes time, so be patient. Patience, persistence and consistency will lead to success.
  2. Motivation is different for each person. As one individual said, some dogs like treats and others like to chase squirrels, so make the motivation unique to the one you’re motivating.
  3. Timing is critical. When you use positive reinforcement, make sure it’s as impactful as the motivational reward itself. The reward needs to immediately follow the behavior.
  4. Don’t forget about yourself. In the daily grind of working, raising a family and/or volunteering in your community, it’s easy to forget to take care of yourself. You can apply this concept through “self-reinforcing,” which is thinking about how you motivate and treat yourself.
  5. Everyone aspires to a positive approach but readily admits they don’t always do it. Don’t be embarrassed to fail and learn from it.
  6. This takes practice and a willingness to experiment; there is no silver bullet. Refer back to number one.
  7. Book clubs are a great way to get to meet people and understand their “story.” Join one or start one today; you won’t be disappointed.

Don’t be afraid to get to know each other
It’s the last takeaway that has been the most meaningful for me. We just had our fourth book club at work. I really enjoy these get-togethers. It’s a great opportunity to have casual but meaningful conversations with co-workers, and in some instances, their significant others and extended family, like husbands, wives, moms and dads. I have loved getting to know people on my team through the stories they share at book club; stories that they use to relate to the concepts of the book. The stories are personal. The emotion is real. The transparency is magical and the trust that gets created in that room is fascinating. Our fourth meeting also brought a new ingredient: more participants from outside the team. By the time the meeting was over, you would never know we were not all on the same team or longtime friends. It felt so natural. There was no policy or procedure to follow for assimilating the new members to the group. No one had to tell us how to act; we all knew what to do and did it. We enjoyed the company, had fun and learned from each other. It reminds me of being a kid … the more the merrier!

It made me think: Do we really need a book club to get to know people? Clearly not, you just need to be curious about others and have the courage to start a conversation. So next time you are waiting for a meeting to start, in the cafeteria grabbing lunch or traveling with a colleague, please do me a favor. Don’t talk about work, ask people about their lives. It’s so much more interesting than work and a simple way to strengthen relationships with your colleagues. To my fellow book clubbers: Thank you. Thanks for continuing to be a part of this great community. I can’t wait for the next one.