"Wheel" Influence can be REAL Influence..

It takes certain character or personality qualities to run in the next position. To do it well is an incredible help to the leader – to violate the position and trust of the leader while in this role can be disastrous.

Today we’re talking about the last positions on the team, the position closest to the sled and closest to the Musher (Leader). This last set is referred to as “Wheel Dogs” – or, more informally, just wheelers. The job of the wheeler is to be that seasoned veteran that not only pulls but help the musher turn the sled.

For the most part, the sled is noisy, ominous and right on your heals. If that is too intimidating or problematic for a team member then they should run in a different position. If you’re constantly looking over your shoulder, constantly wondering if you’re going to be run over, by the time you reach the Burled Arch, you’ll be so traumatized that you’ll be looking for the veterinary tent marked dogs with PTSD!

In every organization that I’ve been a part of there have been people that have gotten too close to the sled – too close to the “underbelly of the beast”. Business isn’t always pretty close up and from my time with non profits, neither are they. There are things that as “Team Dogs” we just don’t want to know and as Lead or Swing – we can run far enough ahead to ‘leave our troubles behind’.

Wheel dogs have more of an even keel personality, not much gets to them and they are worthy confidantes poised to provide sage advice or insight to help the musher to turn the sled. To have a team player that can be that close, see things others can’t handle, maintain confidence, and provide much needed insight or commentary at the right time is an incredible help for any leader. This position can have enormous influence with the leader because they are closest to them.

Keys to increasing your influence as a “Wheeler” in your organization are:

Maintain that even-ness. Sudden, jerky moves, nervousness, and emotional swings can “flip the sled”. The leader must be able to count on you as a consistent producer AND as someone who is consistent emotionally.

Understanding. A great component of Wheelers is that they know and understand their musher. They, 100%, realize that when he / she may appear to be yelling – that it is due to the fact that they are the closest to them – AND that in order for the Lead, Swing, and Team dogs to hear – the volume is going to be loudest to you. Understanding that you’re going to see things that might be unsettling and that as a seasoned veteran, you have enough experience to know what is real trouble and what will get worked out a little further down the trail.

Maintain confidence. There can be no greater duty of the Wheel Dog position than to maintain the leader’s confidence. The things you hear, the things that are shared MUST stay in confidence. To violate this confidence is cause for immediate dropping at the nearest checkpoint! If you know that you have difficulty with this – it is much better to be open and, simply, say – I would prefer to not know the details! What you see and hear near the sled – stays there!

Help with the sled. Tell the musher what they need to hear – not just what you think they want to hear. Leave the role of “YES” dogs to another position. To simply go along with a plan that you believe to be detrimental to the team, only to say you knew it would fail is terrible! How you counsel or advise your musher is just as important, if not more. Keys to this are to ask how the leader prefers negative or dissenting communication. It might look something like you saying, “There are going to be times when I disagree with a decision or direction. Would you prefer that publicly in the meeting or offline and privately?” Disagreement is natural and, to an extent, healthy – just make sure you know HOW to provide that second opinion.

Remember, you are closest to the sled – you have great opportunity to Influence – use it right and you’ll have significant impact on “turning the sled”.

Leveraging your strength as a team player.

Unleashing the power of the Team is the subtitle of the book. It, basically, says that there is untapped potential in the team – or the synergy of the team. The next position on the team contains the majority of the dogs on the team. Generally, there are 2 Lead Dogs, 2 Swing Dogs, 10 Team Dogs, and 2 Wheel Dogs. So there are 5 times as many dogs in Team as there are Lead Dogs.

In business it’s much the same way. If it were not so, we would not produce as much as we do now. We need people on the shop floor producing the product. We need the staff that makes it possible to operate at our present level – and beyond. Not everyone wants the stress or pressure of running in Lead or has the energy or desire to be a “swing Dog” influencer. Some are, perfectly, happy with running the race from 8 – 5 and clocking out! Leader’s – that’s OK! They are incredibly necessary AND contribute significantly as a group.

If you are a Team player – a Team Dog, how can you leverage the power of the position and create influence with the Musher (Leader)?

Play your position exceptionally well.

The first step in playing your position well is to “Own” the position. By that I mean, Know your duties. Put effort into knowing exactly what is expected of you and exactly HOW to perform the tasks that are put on your plate or “in your bowl” (so to speak). Once the basics of the position are covered – learn as much about the position as possible and look for ways to suggest improvements. Leaders will listen to and respect the input of someone who is really good in their position and knows their “stuff”.

Give your full potential, focus, and energy to the tasks at hand, while you’re at work. Most people do not give their all at work – they waste minutes in the day and eliminating waste could lead to you being fully able to perform all your needed tasks in the 8 hours given. During this time, pull the sled and be the go-to player for your area of responsibility, your tasks, or your expertise.

Run with a great attitude. Sled Dogs LOVE to run – they enjoy the journey and it brings them satisfaction. Dogs with the wrong disposition on the team must be changed out for the sake of the team or the organization. Just keep thinking, “Grumpy dogs get left in the Kennel!”

Provide the right feedback. Again, there may be things that you’ll see from your vantage point that can help the leader and help the team. Just keep a record of areas that you see could be improved and when called upon – you’ll be ready to add that little extra value. This will wet you apart from the other Team Dogs and allow you to increase your influence with your Musher (Leader).

It’s OK that you want your work to be your work and value your life outside of work. That’s part of your make-up and your creation of how you want your life to be. More leaders should accept it. However, while you’re at work – pull with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength!

Team Dogs – you’re a valuable part of every organization – run on.

Owning the “Swing Dog” position.

On a Dog Sled team, each role plays a vital part in the production of the whole. Yesterday, we talked about the Lead Dogs and how we can leverage that metaphor to increase our influence. Behind the Lead dogs, on the team, are the Swing Dogs. Let’s look at their role, see if you can own it, and leverage the lesson.

As Lead Dogs are very in tune with the Musher, so the Swing Dogs are in tune with the Lead Dogs. You can imagine if the Lead Dogs started turning ‘Gee’ (right) and the other 14 dogs on the team decided not to follow, the result would be a mess. The Swing Dogs gear into the direction of the Lead Dogs so that when the Lead Dogs start to turn – the Swing Dogs follow. The power of the four dogs turning will influence the rest of the team to make the journey and turn.

In business, the Swing Dogs in the organization are those that hold, possess or wield informal power. Their opinions matter to the rest of the group. Again, they are informal leaders or what I would call “Water Cooler Confidantes” or “Coffee Pot Heroes”. They are the people in the organization that everyone runs to get their opinion when a new initiative is launched. With the influence they have, a title is not needed.

In the DiSC model, the Swing Dogs could be high “I’s” – which stands for Influencer. However, Swing Dogs can come in a variety of shapes and sizes. For instance, someone that is not that “Charismatic” as an individual can be influential as a Subject Matter Expert (SME). They may be an introverted analytic, but when they start to speak on there are of expertise the room quiets and everyone keys in on what they have to say. Their movement “Swings” the rest of the room, department, division, etc.

Are you an Influencer? Are you aware of the circles or areas where you have “swing”? Are the competencies or expertise that allows you to be a non-traditional influencer?

However you have influence, leverage that influence with genuine, authenticity for the betterment of the team – and you will gain influence with your leader. Can you help shape and communicate the leader’s vision? Can you help the leader direct the team in a new direction? Can you help move a new initiative further into adoption and execution? All of these items will increase your influence, not only with the Lead Dogs you are teamed with, but the Musher or Leader of the entire team.

Tomorrow – leverage by being a team player! Until then – mush on – the trail out here is great!

Increasing your Influence through owning your position.

This week, I’m in Georgia facilitating a session on increasing your influence. It dove tails right in with what we talked about on Friday when we talked about owning your role in the organizations vision.

Your influence can be increased as a leader. I’ve said it a thousand times, after learning it from John Maxwell, “Leadership is Influence!” There are different ways to increase your influence within your organization – none any more potent than playing your existing position well. Now, if you know you’re in the wrong position – I would recommend a move as quickly as possible – otherwise play your position to the best of your ability and shine – right where you are.

So, over the next few days – let’s talk about the roles in the “Sled Team” and which you can “own”.

Today, let’s unpack the role of the Lead Dog – and if you’re a Lead Dog we’ll look at a couple of ideas on how to play that role better.

The role of the Lead Dog is to: find the trail (right path), set the pace, set the tone, and be in tune with the musher. This is a position where natural performers gravitate toward. They love being out front and, many times, they run ahead of the pack because it’s their natural pace.

(Hint: if you think you’re a lead dog and others are passing you, you might not be in the right position)

So, how do you play your role well and what are some thoughts to consider?

#1. Know your Musher (Leader). There is no way to effectively increase your influence with your leader and to pull in the right direction without knowing which direction he thinks is right.

#2. Continually hone your skill to find the right path, quickly. It takes effort and intention to stay out front. Without an intentional plan to grow, learn, and improve – you won’t stay out front for long.

#3. Model the behavior that sets the tone for the team. Since the team will be following your lead, make sure your lead is worthy of being followed. Work ethic and attitude are first and foremost. Maintain your leadership, not only in production, but also in setting the atmosphere of a positive attitude.

#4. Pull a little harder than the rest of the team. If you pull a tremendous amount more, you can where yourself out – know the rest of your teammates and pull to the point that others will be inspired to pull harder. Sometimes it will feel like you’re dragging the rest of the team – that’s natural for a ‘Lead Dog’ to feel – but to produce maximum results with the team – set the pace for them 10 – 20% above – not 200% above.

Just a couple of quick thoughts – Lead Dogs are a vital part of every organization – your production will naturally cause you Leader to listen to you – to have influence with them. Just make sure that you pull in the right direction, with the right attitude, and continue to improve – to keep your position of leadership influence!

Lead Dogs! Lead on!

Most leaders are given the direction and told to ‘Mush’ the team in that direction

Most of us have control over our personal vision – our personal “Burled Arch”. However, very few of us have control over the Organization’s “Burled Arch”. For the vast majority of leaders, you are handed a destination, given the direction and told to ‘Mush’ the team in that direction. Operationally, you may have some flexibility on How it gets done but for the most part mid-level leaders are limited.

I don’t have time on the Friday blog to unpack all of the positions on the team, but let me introduce them to you and let’s round table what that might look like in your organization – or your ‘Sled Team’.

In most organizations, there are sled teams within sled teams within sled teams. You are the musher of your team – and you play a role in the team that is organizationally tiered above you. In Dog Sled Teams, there are four positions apart from the musher. The first position is ‘Lead Dog’, followed by ‘Swing Dog’, ‘Team Dogs’, and, lastly, ‘Wheel Dogs’.

Lead Dogs sniff out the trail, show the way and set the pace. Swing dogs are partners with the Lead Dogs. They help with the leadership of the team, but more specifically, they influence the rest of the team to follow the lead dogs’ lead. Team Dogs provide the power, the energy, and do most of the ‘heavy lifting’ (i.e. they make the widgets). Wheel Dogs provide additional power and help steer the sled. They are a strong force and they play a vital role in steadying the sled.

Within your organization, what is the role you most naturally play? Are you one of the first to lead out, find the direction, and start pulling in that direction? Then you’re playing the role of ‘Lead Dog’.

Do you take the lead and energy from the Lead Dogs and use your influence to get the rest of the team on board? Are you the ‘motivator’ of the group? Then you’re playing the role of ‘Swing Dog’.

Are those things too stressful? Does your strength lie in getting things done? When the team hands you something are you the ‘go-to’, get it done player? Then you’re playing the role of ‘Team Dog’.

Lastly, are you a steadying force? Do you provide much needed, solid council to your musher that helps them turn the sled and direct the team? Are you there and ready with the wisdom of someone who has been on the team a while and has the knowledge and understanding from being ‘long in the tooth’? That’s the role of the ‘Wheel Dog’.

Do you play more than one of these roles?

In our sessions we spend time and unpack all of these at a deeper level and teach people how to maximize their roles and increase their organizational value, but for today, can you own one of those positions? When it comes to organizational vision and your role within the team, you must find some way to add value to the over-arching mission – the organizational ‘Burled Arch’.

Wrap up for the week..

Are you ready to leave the lodge? Great achievements rarely take place in the Lazy Boy.

Musher’s carry the 3 gallon pot – for the ‘clear water’ of IDITAROD. Have you taken the time to dream about your ‘Burled Arch’? Have you filled your pot with all of your hopes and dream?

Musher’s carry the components for fire. If you haven’t taken the time to think about your ‘Fire components’ of Oxygen (passions / desires / skillset), Fuel (growth / learning / personal Kaizen), and Heat (line it out, write it down) set that time aside today or this weekend.

HAB 22 – Break the dream down into checkpoints, know the ABC’s of the dream and the A before Q components of what are my next 5 checkpoints or steps.

Lastly, what role do I play in my organizations vision and moving the team forward as a player, as well as a musher.

Thanks for being a part of the journey this week!