I have a dog named Lexi. She is a Vizsla. Vizslas are Hungarian bird hunting dogs who have been bred for nearly 1,000 years to find and flush birds for their hunting masters.
I don’t hunt anymore, but I am a runner, so when my family decided to get a dog, I wanted one who could run with me. Vizslas are great running dogs because they are lean and have high endurance for physical activity. There’s just one problem. They’re constantly stopping and stalking whenever they pass the scent of a bird. If you’re a runner like me, who runs for the calming meditative aspect of solitary repetitive movement, this fucking sucks.
Our first runs were so frustrating that at times I’d just take her back home and drop her off. Other times I’d quit all together. Eventually, I stopped taking her at all. Why couldn’t my dog just chill and run with me like the other dogs? It’s because for 1,000 years she’s been bred to find and flush birds and I had ignored that.
Lexi was born with an innate sense of purpose and self. To realize her purpose, she must hunt. It’s absolutely who she is. So when I try to drag her along, yank on her leash, or yell angry commands, she feels just as frustrated as I do. She’s really no different than you and I. We have a purpose and a self and when we’re forced to be anything but who we are, we’re pretty ineffective as people.
Think of a time when you were pushed into a corner and asked to do things you had no personal or professional interest in. How well did that turn out and what did the situation do to strengthen your natural talents? For Lexi, I was turning her into one of the most piss poor hunting dogs I’ve ever owned by asking her to be anything but the dog she was born to be. And what was the outcome? She was lethargic and depressed and when we did go on walks she was scared to express her true nature.
So, what’s the solution? How would I ever get my dog to run with me while letting her feel free to express her true self? The answer is a 50 foot leash and some planned collaboration.
When I stood back and cut my selfish interest from the equation, I could see that Lexi wants to hunt AND run. Ah ha! Half the time she already wants to do exactly what I want to do. And for the other half, when she does stop, it’s not forever. She just needs enough time to evaluate a scent and then she’s happy to move on. How much time? About 25 paces. Armed with this information I was ready to try again….this time with a little less self-interest and a lot longer leash (a 50 foot retractable to be exact). The result was that Lexi had more room to hunt and I wasn’t so frustrated by the constant tugging on the leash.
I realize that to get the most out of our relationship, Lexi and I both have to accept the leash. We both have to concede some limit to perfection. But because we both acknowledge this limit (neither of us being able to “run free”), the two of us are finally able to enjoy our time together and live more closely to our own unique purpose and self.
The leash is a wonderful metaphor for acceptance in collaboration. As leaders, we don’t like to accept limits or anything that could slow us down. As individuals, it’s easy to live with an idealized pursuit of success. But the moment we start building a team, we must acknowledge the leash and come to find a length that allows everyone to be as close to their natural talents as possible while continuing to move the goals of the group down the road. To maximize our time together, Lexi and I accept the leash. It’s not as long as she wants or as short as I’d like, but it allows us both to live closer to who we were born to be and enjoy some magical runs together along the way.