from A Leader’s Journey – Scott Cochrane, Vice-President, Willow Creek Association (Chicago)

This week the barking dog got pretty loud.

No matter how hard I tried to distract myself, it just wouldn’t quieten down. And I finally realised something I should have remembered much earlier.

When it comes to facing leadership problems, leaders must walk towards the barking dog.

This is one of those principles that leaders simply must master. Perhaps this applies to your present leadership situation…

  • You’ve just found out that conflict is looming in the finance department.  What do you do?
  • You’ve noticed that one of the key metrics is slipping behind projections.  What do you do?
  • You have the seen the performance of a key staff person slide.  What do you do?
  • You’ve heard that your board is spending a lot of time discussing matters that really don’t further the direction of your church.  What do you do?

If you’re a leader, you walk towards the barking dog.

When I first learned this leadership axiom it immediately painted for me a vivid mental picture as to how leaders must respond at the first signs of trouble.

The expression, I’m told, comes from training that postal letter carriers receive concerning what to do when a barking dog appears.

The instinct is to move (or run) away quickly. Instead, so the training apparently goes, sometimes the best move is to walk firmly towards the barking dog. Often this will cause the aggressive dog to “pull in his fangs” and back down.

If you ignore the barking, distracting yourself with other more pleasant tasks, you might muffle the noise for a while. But sooner or later the barking will return. Only now it might appear not only as a barking dog, but possibly as a biting dog.

When the dogs begin to bark, remind yourself that:

  1. No amount of avoidance will make the problem disappear.
  2. Unaddressed problems tend to grow over time, not diminish.
  3. Avoiding pressing problem weakens your leadership in the eyes of the team.
  4. Tackling problems head-on builds leadership muscles that equip you to take on the next round of barking dogs.

So right now, stop and listen. Do you hear the barking?

Don’t turn away. Move boldly and purposefully towards the problem.

Pretty soon the barking will quieten down.

What are the barking dogs you can hear?

A Leader’s Journey – Scott Cochrane

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