There are practices that happen in the world of leadership that are more easily explained using word pictures than by using “accepted” leadership jargon. These are behaviors, styles and attitudes that are part of a leader’s everyday experience but are seldom explained to us in ways that allow understanding and give practical steps to manage the practice.
So what does a preferred behavior, style or attitude look like in daily life? An easy example would be morning people verses night people. It is neither customary nor comfortable for a morning person to plan a fun day to start at noon and finish at midnight but the night owl will jump at that schedule. Our actions tend to be controlled by our lifestyle preferences. Similarly, leaders function with personal preferences in their leadership style. Today’s material will use word pictures of the birddog leadership style verses the foxhound leadership style.
People have work style and leadership style preferences
- Individuals have their own personal preferences about how to lead and how to complete the work.
- Leaders sacrifice a great deal of satisfaction by ignoring their own leadership style and that same sacrifice is forced on others when leaders fail to consider style preferences when giving work assignments and when making hiring decisions.
Two primary leadership work styles
Only two work style word pictures will be addressed and even though there may be many different variants of the Birddog work style and the Foxhound work style, by understanding these two styles you can adapt to any variant.
Some facts about birddogs:
- Birddogs are generally extremely loyal.
- A good birddog will meet expectations 10 out of 10 commands. If they fall short of this perfection they are not viewed as a good birddog.
- A birddog stays close to their master, generally within 50 yards, and they constantly seek direction from their master i.e. turn to the left or right, stop, come, go farther, etc.
- Good birddogs respond instantly to a command. There is no room for improvising by the dog. They are expected to stop what they are doing and obey immediately.
- Good birddogs willingly seek constant direction from their master even though they are the expert on finding the bird.
- If you were going to use a couple of words to describe a well trained birddog those words would be disciplined and obedient.
A birddog is the expert in finding the desired prey but because the weapon used when hunting birds is only effective at close range, birddogs must stay close to the master. The valued birddog is under strict command of its master, he does not go far on his own, is constantly looking back to see if he is still pleasing the master and receives all his direction from the master. The birddog’s temperament and training suit them for these requirements. Old sayings among hunters indicate that birddogs that won’t stay “close” during the hunt don’t come home – you get the picture. It is important that the master’s needs and the dog’s skills and temperament are matched.
Some facts about foxhounds:
- Foxhounds are considered the expert on finding the fox and expected to find the fox with little or no input from their master.
- The master turns the dog loose and follows the best they can i.e. the images from TV of riders on horseback jumping down logs, etc.
- When I ask a friend how far a good foxhound could range before they got into trouble with their master he said with a smile, “about two days.”
- Once given the task of finding the fox a hound does not seek further instruction from their master. He does not check back to see if the master wants them to stop, turn or anything else. The fox is the only goal.
- To meet the master’s expectation the foxhound must do whatever it takes to find the fox.
- The words that best describe a foxhound have to do with “great nose, fearless, aggressive, etc.” and nothing to do with disciplined or obedient
The foxhound is also an expert at finding the desired prey. The foxhound however receives little direction from the master once they are turned loose to do their job. The master’s expectation is that the foxhound is the expert and if given freedom will do the job effectively and he can best enjoy the hunt if he follows the dog’s lead.
They each have their own style that is perfect for the job they do.
Both dogs get their work done with satisfactory results but they go about the work in entirely different ways. If the dog and the master are mismatched i.e. a master desiring obedience and wanting to give close supervision with a foxhound, both the dog and the master are unfulfilled at the end of the day and neither is happy with the performance of the other.
Some things to think about:
Think of birddog traits that some humans demonstrate in their work style:
- People with a preferred birddog management style are very loyal to the company and their specific boss within that organization.
- People with a preferred birddog style may be an expert in their field but choose close supervision and constant and consistent direction from their supervisor.
- People with a preferred birddog management style want frequent checkpoints and constant feedback on how they are doing. Similar to a birddog that will work for several more hours because of a pat on the head and lavished praise, those with birddog styles need reinforcement that they are on track and doing a good job.
- People with a birddog work style are generally not risk takers. They are hard workers and will work when no one is around but prefer to have the supervisor present making the decisions.
- A child with a birddog work style would not like to work alone. They even want a parent or older sibling watching them while they are cleaning their room.
- A child with birddog traits would ask a lot of questions before they did anything and run back to you every time they have a new question even about the same project.
If you could describe a leader that would be the perfect leader for a birddog employee how would they lead and supervise that person?
- They would give clear specific directions and generate lots of lists.
- They would authorize their employees to check back with them as often as needed.
- They would ask for frequent progress reports and read them carefully to see if the employee had any unanswered questions.
- They would help the employee understand not only what needed to be done but how a project should be done.
- The really outstanding leaders for those who have a birddog work style give lots of praise. They praise early and often.
- They want their employees to know they are making progress so they give progress reports often even in preliminary stages of a project.
- The excellent birddog leader does not change the rules for a birddog follower along the way. When a birddog is trained with one set of rules they can’t function when commands are changed. Consistency is the key to high achievement for an employee with the birddog work style.
Think of foxhound traits that some humans demonstrate in their work styles:
- People that have foxhound management work style are skilled at getting the job done independent of others.
- People with foxhound work styles don’t mind working alone, making independent decisions, and prefer to receive an assignment rather than a list.
- People with foxhound work styles are self starters. They are constantly on the go and are motivated by the work.
- People with foxhound work styles don’t need much praise from their supervisors.
- People with foxhound work styles desire reporting cycles with long intervals between reports.
- People with foxhound work styles want to finish the project. They don’t care if there are problems they will plow through them to complete the project. They are generally problem solvers because problems hinder completion. They are just interested in getting the job done. To an employee that has foxhound traits the end result is more important than elements along the way.
- People with foxhound work styles don’t like to be told how to do the job. They are OK with telling them what needs to be done but they resist lists of actions on the how. They do not do well working for a micro-manager or a manager that overreaches with input into the process.
- People with foxhound work styles like to work for people that trust them and don’t question their tactics or processes.
If you could describe a perfect foxhound manager what traits would they have?
- They are good at delegation and do not micro-manage once they delegate.
- They have high levels of trust in other people.
- They are willing to allow mistakes within reason as part of the delegation process.
- They have high expectations for their team.
- They expect their team members to make good decisions independently.
- They are willing to settle for infrequent reports.
Q. Describe the relationship and what happens when you have a birddog leader and a foxhound employee.
A. If you are a birddog leader and have an individual with a foxhound work style on your team, you will be constantly frustrated with the lack of reports, decisions will be made without consulting you, other employees will follow this person’s lead and it may feel like your authority is being usurped.
Q. What happens when you have a birddog father and a foxhound son?
A. The birddog father is frustrated with the foxhound son’s independence. The Child tears apart toys and other stuff just to see how they are made and can’t get them back together. The Child is constantly striking out on his own and never asking permission. There is constant frustration because the foxhound child never asks for advice and learns by doing. Conflict consistently arises because the birddog father wants to “force” change for their child’s own good. Styles are generally a lifetime trait and very difficult to change. The father is still the mature individual and must adjust to give leadership outside of their comfort zone.
Q. What happens when the husband has a birddog style and the wife has a foxhound style?
A. Constant tension when he wants to micro manage everything and she won’t discuss matters but just makes decisions and forges ahead. This situation requires constant attention and honest, clear communication often utilizing the words “this is how your actions make me “feel.”
Q. What happens if you have a foxhound leader and a birddog employee?
A. If you are a foxhound leader and have a manager on your team that has the birddog work style you will find constant frustration in time lost in over-reporting, seeking your advice, never making a decision unless you are involved, etc. You may even feel that the employee doesn’t know their job and rather than constantly explaining what to do to them, it would be easier to do it yourself. You feel you hired them to do a job but they keep involving you so you can’t move on to do your own job. As the leader you need to find the solution. There may be projects that require a lot of your input – assign them to this employee. Give them a designated time each week (and only on that day) to meet with you to ask questions and get directions.
Q. What happens if you have a foxhound father and a birddog son?
A. You may be tempted to think the kid is lazy or worse stupid or incompetent. You can be disappointed that your child doesn’t seem to be able to think for himself. The relationship will be hurt for a lifetime if you do not take leadership and find ways to connect with your child allowing them to succeed with his God-given work style. Find projects you can do together i.e. putting together a new toy, bike, bookshelf, or anything where there are step-by-step instructions. When you assign your birddog son a project that must be done independently i.e. mowing the lawn, give specific clear instructions on how you want the lawn mowed. You might give more detail than you think is necessary such as “Son, I want you to mow the lawn, trim around the trees with the weed whip, trim around the sidewalks by using the edger, wash up the mower when you are finished and put the mower back in the garage. Let them know the expected outcomes and all the tasks involved in the project.
It does not matter if you are the leader, the staff person, the husband, wife, son or daughter; when work styles are mismatched and the leader does not implement a workable system, all are frustrated, find little enjoyment working with the other person, have little job satisfaction and fewer goals are accomplished. Matching leadership styles when hiring or assigning tasks to various employees is critical to job satisfaction and accomplishment.
Is there one work style that is superior to the other? No! The Bible has clear examples of leaders using each style.
Scriptures that show a birddog leadership style:
See Exodus 35:1-3 on instructions for the Sabbath (no room for creativity).
See Exodus 37:1-5 on instructions for building the Ark of the Covenant (no room for creativity).
See Exodus 39:42 Moses inspected the work to make sure the work was done according to the exact plans (He praised them for their craftsmanship but they were not allowed to be creative in how they did the work or the look of the final work).
The book of Leviticus gives detailed instructions and procedures for the many types of offerings i.e. Leviticus 1 procedures for the Burnt Offering, Leviticus 2 for the Grain offering, Leviticus 3 for the Peace offering, Leviticus 4 for the Sin Offering, Leviticus 5 details the sins that required an offering.
Moses was God’s chosen leader and had a birddog leader. He took his instructions from God and passed those instructions on word for word and intent for intent. He wanted everyone working for him to check back with him before they made their next move.
Scriptures on the foxhound leadership style:
See Matthew 22:15-22. Jesus gives instructions on what belongs to Caesar and what belongs to God. (The Pharisees wanted details. They were legalistic. Jesus gave no detailed list of what items belonged to God and what items needed to belong to Caesar and this frustrated the birddog Pharisees.)
See Matthew 10:1, 5-16. (Jesus sent them out and gave them some instructions but did He tell them how to cast out demons, how to find a home to stay in, how to find a place to eat, how to be weary as a snake and as gentle as a dove? When Jesus sent His disciples out in teams to spread the word of who He was, He told them what He wanted accomplished, sent them on their way, and waited for the report back.)
See Matthew 15:32-39. Jesus fed the 4,000. (He told the disciples to feed the crowd but did not give them detailed instructions concerning how to do it.)
See Matthew 28:16-20. Jesus gave the great commission. (Jesus told them to go and make disciples but did not give them details on how to do it.)
Jesus was God’s chosen leader and in these specific examples demonstrated a foxhound leadership style
Leaders must adapt their style to be a servant leader
In the examples above Jesus used a foxhound work style but Jesus adapted his style to help those who were with him:
See Matthew 8:1-4. Jesus heals a man with leprosy. (Jesus gave detailed instructions to a man he had just healed to insure he complied with the law.)
See Matthew 19:16-22. Jesus tells a rich young man how to enter the kingdom of heaven. (Jesus’ instructions were clear and step by step.)
Some practical ways leaders adapt their style:
A birddog manager can give a foxhound employee a lot of freedom to do the job and only ask for clear detailed reports at specific checkpoints on specific dates. They need to allow the worker with foxhound traits to lead their team with checkpoints and not to micro manage the employee. Give them room to breathe.
Foxhound managers can give birddog employees clearly defined instructions at the beginning of a project and direct them to work with their team to extended checkpoints before checking back.
Leaders may have a personal preference in work styles but there are ways to become an extremely effective leader to teammates of all styles and to help teammates be successful on projects that require a style outside their normal preference. Jesus worked with each of His followers in the manner that best complemented their success. Details on those techniques, however, are for another time and another article.