Flying Dogs, Part I

Entrepreneurs can be their own worst enemy. Despite our best intentions and the dreams we have of building business empires, many of us continually shoot ourselves in our own feet … with our own gun! As a result, our business and the people we employ suffer. Sometimes, what we need most isn’t more sales or more cash or better systems. Sometimes, what we need is someone or something to take the gun out of our hands to keep us from hurting ourselves. Fortunately, there’s help on the way, and it comes in the form of a story from the airline industry.

As the story goes, there was a passenger boarding a plane (pre-COVID) who looked through the open door to the flight deck and noticed that the only occupants were a pilot and a dog.

Curious about this, he turned to the flight attendant who was greeting the boarding passengers and asked, “What’s up with the dog on the flight deck?” The attendant explained that autopilot technology had advanced to the point where planes actually fly much smoother and have a much better safety record when pilots don’t handle the controls but, instead, let the autopilot fly the plane. She added, “But, pilots are only human and have a high need to control their environment, so most of them find it impossible to keep their hands off the controls. Our airline devised a creative way to address this problem.”

She went on to explain, “FAA regulations require that all aircraft have a pilot on board at all times. The dog is also highly trained and is there to bite the pilot’s hand if he tries to touch any of the controls.” “So, why have the pilot there at all?” the passenger asked. “He’s there to feed the dog,” she replied.

Successful business owners have “dogs” on their own “flight decks.” In business, these dogs are known as managers, advisors, and spouses to name just a few. Just as with the airplanes in our story, these owners know their business performs much better and they are a much better business leader when they actually listen to them.

The best dogs are able to take the self-destructive gun out of our hands and then have us show them gratitude for doing so. They keep us from hurting ourselves and our business by repeatedly shooting ourselves in the foot. Some of us (this author included) may require more than one dog to keep us in line.

Outsiders are frequently in better positions than the owner to recognize when they would benefit from the presence of a dog. They can more easily observe the limitations placed on the business by the owner’s behavior and the decisions they make.

Countless books have been written on the importance of building strong management teams in growing businesses. These teams are just another term for the pack of dogs an owner needs to help them stay on course and grow their company. The question that begs asking is why more business owners don’t hire (and listen) to them.

In Part II of this Note, I’ll address some of the reasons business owners avoid hiring highly skilled people to help them manage their business and how to address this. In the meantime, I’m going to tend to a couple teeth marks I have on my hand.

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