Positive Reinforcement: Leadership Lessons from the Animal Kingdom

I was in the zoo with family and friends during the weekend for some time off. I don’t go to the zoo quite often but every time I do, I look for those animal trainers who show off tricks they teach their pets. My first stop was the dog show. Same old stunts – jumping thru a set of hoops, climbing up ladders, etc. Quite fascinating indeed. Next was the marine animals show with the sea lions and the penguins. What you’ll find common among animal trainers is their strategic use of positive reinforcement. You know, those times they feed the animals either before or after doing the stunts. The animals respond positively after those rewards are given and they perform as expected, even better. What’s amazing is that animal trainers know more about leadership than most of our managers in the field. Ken Blanchard and Don Shula in their book The Little Book of Coaching, they higlight the fact that you need to be effective in your response to your staff’s performance. Ken presents the four responses that people receive after they perform or do nothing – no response, negative, redirection and positive. We are very much familiar with the first two. When we do something significant in the organization, we get a “no response.” Most managers think that it’s supposed to be that way since we get paid to perform. But when we screw up, they come and whip us up real good and leave. Blanchard calls them the “seagull managers” who are descibed as those who are not around until something goes wrong, fly in, make a lot of noise, dump in on people and then fly out. Sounds familiar? I know it does as I’ve seen managers who treat people like this. I guess it’s very common with Asians. But what we don’t realize is that people respond to positive (and negative, as well) feedback. When something positive follows a good performance, they will want to repeat that in the future. Do you recall how many times you repeated some stunts you performed for your parents as a toddler when they told you how much they liked it? We thrive on positive feedback. And this is what managers should realize – to capitalize on positive reinforcement to bring out the best in people. After all, most, if not all, managers want a winning team.

Lee Iacocca, former CEO of Chrysler in the 80’s, once said, “Management is nothing more than motivating other people.” This is absolutely true

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3 thoughts on “Positive Reinforcement: Leadership Lessons from the Animal Kingdom

  1. So people’s complaint about seagull management is valid after all. Great post, I will always remember that when managing people.You might be interested with the Young Entrepreneur Society from the < HREF="http://www.YoungEntrepreneurSociety.com" REL="nofollow">http://www.YoungEntrepreneurSociety.com<>. An profound documentary about successful people.

  2. Hi Harel,Thanks for reading my blog. As Tim Sanders of Yahoo! always say, “Leaders are Readers.” Let me add on to that: Leaders are Learners. It would be great to also learn from your leadership experiences. Feel free to post comments anytime. It’s always an honor to be able to share valuable information