NO Mad DogsShortly after 9/11, my son sent me a link to an blog post entitled On Sheep, Wolves and Sheepdogs which described the general population as comprised of sheep (peace-loving, productive people); wolves (evil people) and sheepdogs (people who are capable of aggression in order to protect others). It’s an analogy which I have used many times in describing group dynamics.

But lately I had an occasion to re-think this analogy because of a situation that someone I knew was involved in. It involved a group of people trying to lead an organization that’s undergoing a transition. And there was one person that disagreed with the direction being taken. Everything this person did was holding up the group – refusing to meet with the one person they thought they had a conflict with; demanding that things be done their way; not completing assignments – in short, anything that could prevent any progress being made. Board members were reduced to tears in frustration.

At first blush, I would have said the person was a wolf, but wolves have a purpose when it comes to sheep – they want to get something. With real wolves and sheep it’s food. With people wolves and sheep its power, riches or goods. Wolves have a reason for what they are doing.

In the situation described above, there was nothing apparent that could be gained by being an impediment – everyone would lose. It’s an illustration of the lobster principle – when lobsters get into a pot to get the food therein, they’ll also keep pulling back in those lobsters trying to get out. The result is that all the lobsters get eaten.

So, if this person wasn’t a wolf, then what were they? What creature among sheep, wolves and sheepdogs acts without any apparent reason? There’s only one – a mad dog. In nature, rabies is the cause and always results in death. And therefore, mad dogs are always killed.

But we’re talking about people – what do you do with a person who’s acting like a mad dog? The analogy is still the same – you have to kill the mad dog. I’m not advocating actual murder here (although in your fantasy world….) but elimination of the behavior.

How do you eliminate the behavior? Either the person changes their behavior or you fire them. I’m being blunt because you can’t delay your response to a mad dog. Just like in nature, they won’t get better if you wait. And the longer you wait to act, the harder it is to act. So either you face them and get them to change or you fire them.

Now I can hear lots of reasons that you can come up with as to why you can’t fire them. They are the boss’ son or daughter; they’re a major donor; they have needed skills or connections; etc. But is that reason talking or the attempt to avoid conflict? I mean, it’s not nice to fire people. Well, it’s not nice to screw up other people’s work by being an impediment for no reason.

How else would you handle a mad dog?

A physicist by trade, author by choice, a born teacher, a retired veteran, and an adamant problem solver, Frank has helped the White House, federal agencies, military offices, historical museums, manufacturers, and over 250 technology startups get stuff done, communicate effectively, and find practical solutions that work for them. In his spare time, he makes sawdust and watches Godzilla movies.