Meet people where they are

Louie, my adopted pup, and I had arranged to meet our trainer Zig and his dog, Deliah, at a dog park one crisp autumn morning. Deliah is every pet owner’s dream—obedient, well behaved and playful. By contrast, Louie usually spent his time at the park scouting out the surroundings, greeting new dogs entering the park, and trying to get his hair to stand up so he would appear larger than he is. Besides Louie and Deliah, there were two other dogs and the three of them were running and jumping, while Louie was marking every tree in sight, sometimes two or three times, making sure everyone would know he had been at the park

Every once in a while Louie would start running and invariably, get the other dogs to chase him. He is incredibly fast and very agile and usually very tough for other dogs to catch. But after a good run, he would go right back to marking trees and inspecting the fence to see if there was any place to escape.

Zig, decided to throw a ball for Deliah to catch, hoping Louie would jump in on the fun. He’d throw the ball, Deliah would chase after it, and then bring it back to present it to her master. They did this routine over and over again with little to no attention from Louie.

Finally Zig told me he was going to throw the ball right at Louie to see how he would react. The ball breezed through the air, bounced on the ground and gently knocked Louie right in the chest. Louie stood there looking as though there was something wrong with us; why would we throw a ball at him?

Zig crossed his arms and said, “I am amazed. I have never seen anything like this. This poor dog doesn’t even know how to play.” I thought to myself, that’s crazy. Every dog knows how to play, right? It’s innate—they just play! Surely he knows how to play, he just chooses not to.

But after several attempts to engage him in playful activities that most dogs love, I had to agree that Louie simply didn’t know how to play. I had assumed, wrongly, that playing comes naturally to all dogs.

Leader, isn’t that just like us? We assume that a title or a certain amount of experience guarantees ability. But while a person may be capable, there are other variables (new job, new organization, new leader, new goals, etc.) that may impact their need for more direction. Here are some tips to help you avoid making assumptions that could hinder productivity and relationship.

  1. Don’t make assumptions; be willing to learn about others.
  2. Understand where people are in their ability to do the task.
  3. Give clear directions, ask questions, and check in to see how their progress is going.
  4. Invite them to ask questions to ensure mutual understanding.
  5. Learn to be a Situational Leader (The Ken Blanchard Companies, SLII); fine tune your leadership behavior skills and provide the help your team needs to develop into top performers.

Surprisingly, Louie needed to learn to play. After working with him for some time, we now play fetch and wrestle a bit (until he opens that big mouth of his to engulf my entire head), and he loves to play with my neighbor’s dog, Eve. I met him right where he was and he is developing nicely into a fun loving dog….who loves to play!

Actually, this is how God treats us. Contrary to what we may believe, we don’t have to be perfect to be in relationship with God because he is more than willing to meet us right where we are. We might not know all the right things to say or do, but God gives us grace right where we are so we can enjoy who we were created to be.

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