Resilient Leaders Learn from Everyone-including DOLPHINS!

Who can resist the constantly “smiling” face of a dolphin whose =
intelligence and acrobatic skill have delighted humans for centuries? =
Whether through the legends of sailors rescued by these marine mammals =
or through frescoes found on the walls of ancient Minoan palaces, humans =
continue to be intrigued by dolphins.=20

I am no exception. Nor is my 13 year-old granddaughter Siena. Together, =
we showed up at the Dolphin Research Center (DRC) where a colony of =
Atlantic bottlenose dolphins call the lagoons of the Gulf of Mexico =
home. Here, DRC researchers and trainers care for dolphins who have to =
come to them because of injuries or because prior captivity deemed them =
“non-releasable.” The Center is a not-for-profit education and research =
facility dedicated to promoting the coexistence between marine mammals =
and humans and the environment we share. Through research and education, =
we begin to understand the world of the dolphin and can study cognition, =
physiology and husbandry.=20

As a management consultant, I became fascinated with the corollary =
between engagement for high performance in order to create a resilient =
organizational life and engagement and high performance in the watery =
world of the dolphin.

To gain the trust and performance of dolphins as well as people, here =
are five lessons we might all do well to remember:

* Know everyone’s name and something unique about each one.
* Set everyone up for success.
* Build skill levels.
* Provide more stimulation for top performers.
* Allow for fun and individuality.

Lesson #1: Know everyone’s name and something unique about each one. At =
DRC, researchers tell dolphins apart by their coloring, their movements, =
and call each by their name. A special shape on a stick is lowered in =
the water and every dolphin knows which one belongs to him or her. =20

In organizations, I’ve observed managers who do not know the names of =
their employees, can’t tell you one thing unique about them, and send =
group messages that don’t take individuality into account. This =
anonymity is compounded in a virtual world. Sadly, that virtual world =
becomes the fallback way of communicating even if the person is sitting =
in the next cubicle.=20

A great manager/leader knows that every virtual team must at least start =
with a face-to-face meeting (or video face-to-face) and a personal =
sharing of more than resume data. A great manager/leader finds ways to =
highlight each person so they feel singularly recognized.

Lesson #2: Set everyone up for success. At DRC, researchers and =
trainers make sure that before asking a dolphin to do something “more”, =
they have allowed the dolphin to be successful in a current task. When =
the new “request” is made, the trainer makes sure that not every element =
is strange and so there’s a modicum of comfort.

In organizations, goals are sometimes changed before employees have a =
chance to experience and celebrate success. The bouncing ball is never =
caught. Frustration results. Likewise, when responding to the demands =
of a changing business world, a great manager/leader makes sure that at =
least some element of prior success is brought into play. For example, =
Apple used the technology of the I-Phone to create and expand into the =
world of the I-Pad.=20

Lessons #3: Build skill levels. At DRC, researchers and trainers break =
apart a task or a research project into smaller components and observe =
dolphins while adding the next step only after seeing successful =
completion of the first. Different dolphins also learn at different =

In organizations, great managers/leaders don’t expect 100% proficiency =
from the starting gate. Instead, they watch for building blocks of =
performance. By observing and listening for such blocks, a =
manager/leader also knows whether an employee can, in fact, do the =
assigned task. That manager/leader must also know what is the time =
frame for accomplishment. Not everyone is suited for specific tasks. =
Pulling the plug too late can be as dangerous as pulling the plug too =

Lessons #4: Provide more stimulation for top performers. At DRC, some =
of the dolphins were stronger and quicker than others. Dolphin Tanner =
would become bored if not offered enough stimulation. He loves the =
cognitive challenge of imitating while blindfolded with soft latex cups. =
(International Journal of Comparative Psychology, 23,671-688). Without =
stimulation and challenge, Tanner “checks out” of his work.

Organizationally, humans are no different. Skilled performers become =
bored and apathetic if not invited to explore what might be the next =
growth opportunity. A great manager/leader watches for performers who =
have “checked out”. Increased stimulation might be just the answer.

Lesson #5: Allow for fun and individuality. Dolphin Talon is a =
grandchild of Flipper, one of the stars from the television show by the =
same time. Talon literally squeals with excitement every time he makes =
an incredibly high jump and puts an extra rotation into his flip. =
Dolphin Calusa is a jokester, hiding the target poles so trainers have =
to ask her to go find them. And Molly is my special “dolfriend.” Yes, I =
adopted this 50 year-old older marine mammal with scars from a former =
life under her flippers. She is into accessorizing and has a collection =
of colored scarves that people have brought her!=20

When Siena gave Molly the command to “Bring me a gift,” Molly came back =
with an orange and red silk scarf over her snout. Siena was thrilled. =
We learned this does not happen often. Molly has been known to suddenly =
appear with a scarf over her dorsal, one on her nose, and another on her =
flipper. And to this day, divers who inspect the lagoon have NO idea =
where she hides her accessories!

We are all like the dolphins, wanting to add some color, fun and =
personality into our workday. A great manager/leader makes space for =
humor, laughter, and originality of expression. In fact, it is the =
laughter and spontaneity that keep researchers, trainers, and the many =
volunteers at Dolphin Research Center coming back for more.=20

As we drove back to Miami and our long flight back to California, Siena =
and I realized we had laughed and learned. We watched with wonder. And =
we knew that places like the Dolphin Research Center allowed us to also =
embrace our own humanity.=20

“The worst sin toward our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to =
be indifferent to them; that’s the essence of humanity.”=20

– George Bernard Shaw

=A9 2012, McDargh Communications. Publication rights granted to all =
venues so long as article and by-line are reprinted intact and all links =
are made live.

Eileen McDargh is a Hall of Fame professional speaker, management =
consultant, resiliency expert and top thought-leader in leadership. =
Visit The Resilient Spirit at to get her =
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