Once I had a boss (an advertising agency owner) who delivered a classic line to a client who was trying to tell our team how to do our jobs.
As the client was delivering his withering criticism of our work, my boss interrupted him and said, “You don’t hire a dog to do your own barking.”
It stopped this complainer dead in his tracks and was a simple yet profound lesson for me:
Don’t hire an expert then tell them how to do their job
Bad things will happen when you hire an expert—outside your field of expertise—then proceed to constantly tell them how to do their job differently to fit your perception of what’s “best.”
- They are going to get confrontational, which could lead to you firing them or them quitting prematurely before they are allowed to provide the quality of work you hired them for in the first place.
- They will stop giving you their best advice, the more you bitch and berate; instead, they will just do what you demand, even to the point of producing lousy, sub-par work—just to shut you up and get paid.
- They will get the work done, finish the contract, then go tell others what a terrible experience it was to work with you.
- Or worst case, they will intentionally sabotage the work, possibly undetectable by you for a long time (lesson: revenge is sweet).
How to Muzzle Yourself
If you are self-aware enough to see that you are constantly telling the “dogs” you hire how to bark, here are some different behaviors you can try.
- Be patient. Unless you are bleeding to death or your pipes have burst (or some other crisis), stop expecting immediate miracles. Most things take time, regardless of how fast you expect the world to work.
- Be nice. I’m talking about being diplomatic and collaborative. Instead of saying, “I hate this! You are terrible! Do it this way! etc.” try having a conversation. Examples: “Tell me why you went in this direction….help me understand why you are recommending this (or why this is taking longer than anticipated, etc.)…explain to me again your process.”
- Stop berating. If you beat, shock-collar or scream at a dog long enough, she will learn to cower when you approach. If that’s how you treat the professionals you hire, you’re going to end up with a lot of quivering lapdogs around you. Congratulations, that makes you both ineffective and a bully.
- Learn to trust. Delegation is extremely hard for some people. It requires a degree of trusting that people will do what they say they are going to do. If you can’t extend that trust to other professionals, don’t hire them in the first place.
- Trust but verify. I liked when Ronald Regan famously said when dealing with the Russians on nuclear disarmament: “Trust but verify.” Notice he wasn’t a jerk about it…he was diplomatic. He first trusted, but yes—he verified. He demonstrated aplomb at the ultimate level. If after tactfully verifying that your needs have not been satisfied, then at that point perhaps you are justified in doing a little “barking” to rectify the situation. But that approach shouldn’t be your default response.
How you found yourself on the receiving end of someone who hired you and kept telling you how to “bark?” How did you handle it?
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Also published on Medium.