This summer our travels took my wife and I to our 49th state, Alaska. Interesting state…Alaska is a geographical marvel. When a scale map is superimposed on a map of the lower 48, Alaska extends from coast to coast, yet boasts the lowest population density in the nation, perhaps due to the fact that one-third of the state lies within the Arctic Circle. You won’t see a billboard in the state, but can see 17 of the 20 highest peaks in the US, and nearly half of the world’s glaciers.
Dog mushing happens to be the state sport and something of which I knew little. Native Alaskans are proud of the various dog mushing teams and the grueling Iditarod, where hundreds of competitors come from all over the world each year to make the 1,150 mile journey from Anchorage to Nome with their dog sled team.
Listening to various strategies of making an ideal sled team certainly drew parallelisms to creating and nurturing great teams in any organization.
Know you team members – Get to know your team members as individuals. Each has a unique personality and skill set. Make each individual feel that they are needed and wanted and a valued member of the team.
Build relationships with the team members – If you’re going to take time to know your team, make time to build a relationship with your members. The great Alaskan mushers will tell you that time after time they will get more production from their team if there’s a relationship, a bonding to the unit. It’s much easier to ask your team to pull you out of a tough situation if you have a relationship with them.
Understand strengths and weaknesses - Know who your lead dogs are, your wheel dogs, your point dogs, etc. If you assign project tasks to your team, make the best use of your resources by using their strengths to your advantage. Pair a stronger worker with one that needs more guidance. Plugging your team into the correct roles can increase its effectiveness dramatically.
If it’s not working, don’t be afraid to change – Mix it up! If a member isn’t working well in the position you placed them, don’t be afraid to try someone new. A new lead dog may reveal hidden talents if given an opportunity.
Love what you do - As the “Musher” in your organization, your team can smell if you truly love your work or if you’re simply “doing your job.” Enthusiasm breeds enthusiasm.
Respect experience - Strange as it may seem, the dogs have to be taught team manners, and the lead dogs learn to steer the team with the musher giving them voice commands. Developing the relationship between the musher and the lead dogs can take months, even years of training. But once a team is established, old leaders actually take over much of the training of younger leaders.
In my wildest imagination I never thought I’d have so much in common with a musher…who knew? I guess it boils down to great leadership qualities are indeed great leadership qualities…
Be good to yourself...