Kathy and I got our first puppy, Lucy, several years ago. I was so proud of Lucy (and admittedly myself for my training skills) that she was able to learn “high five” within the first month. “Sit” and “down” also seemed to come quickly, especially when I had a treat in my hand. But “come” was another matter.
During her first few weeks with us, we practiced that command for hours—Kathy at one end of the yard with a treat in her hand and me at the other likewise. And Lucy picked that trick up super fast. Or so we thought. Eliminate the treat and add a squirrel, blowing leaf or noisy child next door and Lucy was a disaster. It’s like everything learned disappeared.
How silly I must have looked having a conversation with Lucy in the front of the neighbor’s house. “Lucy, come…let’s go…time to eat…come…come….now…” That’s pretty much how it went.
Day after day.
Then finally it struck me. All my babbling was just noise to Lucy. Ever wonder what dogs think about us? I’m sure Lucy was thinking, “bla bla bla” and making moving mouth signs with her paws. Repeating the command multiple times or adding human context was completely useless in this situation. What was needed was action.
So I walked over to Lucy, grabbed her collar, and walked her home. A few times responding like this eventually produced the results I wanted.
Fast forward a few weeks and I was attending a professional development event. The presenters were on stage and I was seated among my colleagues in the audience. While sitting there barely listening and doodling on the copy of the PowerPoint presentation I was handed at the door, another thought struck me—they’re speaking a lot of words but as far as I was concerned they weren’t saying a thing.
Nothing in the presentation gave me any reason to believe that it was worth listening to. Sound cynical? Maybe…but also realistic. The presenters clearly knew their stuff, but from prior experience I knew that we would be talking about this (whatever it was, I can’t remember) for years. And we would likely see little, if any change. This was just noise distracting me from what I thought was more deserving of attention.
That was the moment where I started to notice that a lot of people—especially us educators—had a knack for talking about what we were doing, or wanting to do, or that new initiative, or whatever. But we are really bad (as a group in general) at just doing it.
More action, less talk.
While sitting through that presentation, I vowed that I would make my actions the priority rather than the words that described my actions. Just like grabbing Lucy’s collar rather than trying to convince her with words that meant nothing to her, leading others needs to involve less noise.