When to Withhold Your Delight

Dewey is a lot like the ‘millenials’ entering the workforce now.  He’s one of those horses for whom confidence is innate and his development hasn’t squashed. He believes the world is for enjoying.

I gingerly stepped into the stirrups the first time I put my 60+ yr old body over his 2 yr old one.   I needn’t have worried. He looked back, seemed to say, “How interesting!” and walked over to a big green training ball and began pushing it across the arena with his nose.

Like the ‘millenials’ raised with attachment parenting and ‘everybody wins a prize’ schooling;  Dewey’s playfulness has been celebrated and leveraged; he loves to engage with people. He’ll go through his entire repertoire of skills on his own — just to delight an audience.  Almost everyone adores him. And if some odd fellow shows up who doesn’t, he’ll tease her until she’s won over — or goes away!

As I began to develop him further, I realized I had to change my leadership style to get the best from him. He’d gotten to the point where he knew he could delight me just by being his charming self, and he stopped really listening and checking in with me to see what was being asked of him.

It was time to withhold delight. I began asking for a higher level of performance from him and giving no response until he gave it to me. For instance, I’d ask him to not just step up onto the pedestal (his favorite trick) but to first stand before it without moving — then put only one foot up on it and then put it back down again. I only praised the accomplishment of the new ‘stretch goals.’

Within minutes he was riveted to me. I could see him asking himself, “Oh, boy—a new game! What will it take to please her?” He began working to delight me. Yesterday he backed up onto the pedestal with his back feet…not very easy given horse anatomy, but he loved the challenge and my pure joy when he succeeded.

Like Dewey, the millenials have been raised with an abundance of praise and delight in anything they do. Just showing up for kindergarten warranted a gold star!  These are tough employees to coach because they aren’t used to hearing anything but how great they are.  I see it earlier. Parents bring them to me for coaching when the less than adoring world bursts their confidence bubble and they have few resources to rebuild it.

The same strategy works with them as with Dewey. I establish a baseline relationship of genuine delight in them. I praise everything they do well In the beginning…no matter how small.  In other words, I establish a relationship within which they are comfortable and confident.  Then, I begin creating more engaging and challenging goals.  And, I watch!  I titrate praise as needed to maintain confidence, withdrawing it from the known and adding it generously when new and or really meaningful work is accomplished.  And, like Dewey, it rivets their attention and fuels their desire to excel!

It’s a powerful strategy for both leader and follower. First and foremost, IT DOESN’T TAKE LONG.  You’re not repairing damage only leading them in a way that works for them.  Secondly, it creates an environment of aliveness and appreciation. It removes judgment and condemnation from our managerial repertoire so neither leader or follower are living in a contracted or fearful state energetically. Equally important, it causes people and horses to REALLY LISTEN to what you are asking for.

“If you want them to be riveted; you have to be riveting!” says famed horse trainer, Linda Parelli. I rivet with delight and increasing challenge.  My question for all leaders is: How enthusiastically does your organization/team/family/horse – respond to your requests?

Rate them on a 1-5 scale where one is non-compliant and five is true enthusiasm.  (BTW, the definition of the word enthusiasm derives from ‘en theos,’ “Spirit or God indwelling.”)  In other words, how spirited are your followers?

I would love to hear how you’re getting to enthusiasm!

Until next time, happy trails,  Peggy

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