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Shawna Schuh

Learn the Art of Leadership

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With the right knowledge and technique it’s possible to be both a leader and a friend.

Pets are usually a deep love, or you wouldn’t have gone into the pet business. This is a driving force behind what you do. I love that about you.

What is also apparent is how often leaders in the pet space get tripped up between the love and relationship they have with their pets and how they relate to their team and vendors.

Loving the people you work with is good, letting them into your inner thoughts, foibles and intimacies is not. As a leader of your pack, you must make the hard calls. You must determine what is best for your business.

I remember when I was starting out in business, a coach I hired asked me, “Do you want to be liked or do you want to be a leader?” My reply was, “Can’t I be both?” 

His reply: “If you want to be liked more than you want to lead, you will never lead.”

I have thought about this a lot over the years and having had the great honor of leading associations, teams, groups and animals, I now understand the wisdom of his question and the naïveté in my reply. 

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If you want to excel as a leader, then that is what you must be first. Whether you picked it, or it was thrust upon you, (and having a pet business means you are a leader) learning a few leadership skills is not only smart, it’s imperative to your continued success. 

Following is an acronym I created to help you walk that line between leader and friend. I like that it spells out the word: ART — because being an exceptional leader is an art! One you can display and grow in the rest of your career and life.

You’ll see I’ve used two words in each letter, one first for your leadership, and the second for you to bring your own brand of love forward. You can be both a leader and a friend if you know and practice the order, because good leaders are fair, reasonable and people do like and admire them. Usually because they know and display leadership first.

A = Authority & Affection 

This is best described in how we work with our dogs. You remember teaching your dog to sit, right? You only ask once with authority. If they don’t do it, you help them do it. Then you show them affection and praise. 

Let’s review that again. You ask for something once. Expecting that it will be done on your command, then you show affection and praise. 

If you’re having trouble with people doing what you ask in a timely manner, or not following through, it could be as simple as going back to this basic premise. Ask with authority and expectation. This is leadership. 

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R = Respect & Responsibility

Showing respect is how you earn respect. Does this mean you hold yourself to a higher standard? Yes, it does. 

You are responsible for the success of your pet business. However you are also responsible for letting your team and vendors know what is expected of them. How well you communicate your expectations falls on you. You communicate with respect, and expect them to be responsible for those expectations. 

T = Trust & Time

Someone recently asked me how long it took to get my horse to get up onto a raised platform only 3 feet across. My answer was that it wasn’t about practice, it was about the trust we have that allowed a 1,000-pound animal to do as I asked. It’s the same for you as a leader.

When people trust that you will do what is right, that you won’t put them in peril, that you have their best interest in mind when making decisions, especially though ones, you will experience better results. 

This takes time. Time to be together, time to move through issues, time to be tested and prove you have integrity and time for you to learn the strengths and weaknesses of those you have selected to be around you.

Leadership is an ART, so is friendship. For your pet business, knowing which is first may be the turning point for you to have even greater success.

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Shawna Schuh is a certified speaking professional, an executive coach, master neuro linguistic programming practitioner and president of Women in the Pet Industry Network. Email her at shawna@womeninthepetindustry.com


This article originally appeared in the July-August 2017 edition of PETS+.

Shawna Schuh is a certified speaking professional, an executive coach, master neuro linguistic program- ming practitioner and president of Women in the Pet Industry Network. Email her at shawna@womeninthepetindustry.com.

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Shawna Schuh

 Pushing the Pig: Try It, and You’ll See Why It Doesn’t Work

Stop pushing…

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I’M THE KEEPER of a pig, the size of which is an interesting subject. Herbert the Hogster is a mini pig. And now that he is in his fifth year of life, though I have no scale to weigh him on, nor could I lift him to gauge it that way, it’s looking like he could weigh in at 150 pounds or more.

I share this with you because Herbert has taught me an important leadership lesson recently. He was in the house uninvited. Sometimes I invite him into my office, which has a door to the outside and stone floors for easy cleanup of dirty hooves, but he snuck through the barrier and into the main part of the house and was heading in the direction of the dog food when I spied him.

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Immediately, I got behind him to push him back through the door and into the outside. He was having none of it. He planted his little hooves, and the more I pushed him, the more he grunted and squealed his displeasure.

That’s when I realized you can’t push a pig. Especially one that outweighs you.

This situation is like others we encounter where we want one result, and it seems nearly impossible to attain it by what we’re doing. Think about how you have sales goals — and because of those sales goals you do some pushing. And if you are feeling behind or overwhelmed, you might be pushing from behind. And nothing is happening.

Kinda like pushing a pig. No matter how hard you push, no matter how much you want to move forward, no matter how “nice” you are, that pig is not budging a bit.

So I stopped pushing.

I would like to say that I made this decision with a clear head and without using any off-colored words, but let’s suffice it to say after exhausting my strength and patience, I decided to take a different approach.

Do you quit pushing when the results are not there? Or do you keep at it because it’s the easiest thing to do or the thing we know? And do you notice that the harder you push the less you accomplish? This is true for so many things.

For me, it was my immediate reaction and that’s the real lesson. If I had stopped for a moment and thought about it, I had several other options that I could have done, including the one I did next: I went and got some pig food and put it in a pan so when I shook it, the sound made the most alluring and effective noise that Herbert wanted to follow. Which he did, right outside!

Next time before I — or you — push the pig, remember this lesson:

  • Think before reacting.
  • Determine the best plan or plans.
  • Lure rather the pressure.

Anytime things come to a standstill in your business, stop pushing the pig and do something else.

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Shawna Schuh

4 Steps to Pair with the Right Mentor

Tips for gaining the most from the experience.

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WHEN I WAS STARTING out in business, I sought both coaching and mentorship. When I paid for coaching, I gained value. When I sought mentorship, it usually fell flat, until I joined a structured program that had mentees and mentors go through an interview process. I happened to score a wonderful mentor, however another woman who went through the program found little value in her experience.
So to help you find a mentorship and to gain the most from it, here are the steps.

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1. Have the right goal. The more you know and communicate what you want from a mentor, or what you want in seeking mentorship, the better. You don’t get results without stating what you want them to be.

2. Determine a time frame. When each of you knows what you are agreeing to, you can use your time more effectively. From the length of the mentorship to when and where and for how long you will meet. Treat this like any important appointment and respect each other’s time.

3. Be prepared. When someone has asked me to mentor or wants to learn from me, I usually ask them to come up with the top questions they want to ask. This throws people off, which is surprising. If you are going to use leaders’ time, then use it well. Asking them to tell you their story is a waste of their time. Get to what you want. If you do not know what you want, then you are not ready for a mentor yet.

4. Set clear expectations. Mentors are not your teachers, your parents nor your accountability police. They are guides, so seek their wisdom rather than their secrets or systems. If they choose to provide you with those things, it’s wonderful; however, ask questions that will help you move forward rather than expecting the mentor to give you a plan. You can even ask them how they would most like to provide guidance, and then you can adjust from there.

Most important of all, a mentor is someone who is willing to give you their most important asset: their time. And so the most important thing to remember is to use their time well, which in turn will be an excellent use of your time, too.

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Shawna Schuh

To Get to the Bottom of a Complaint, Pause, Smile and Ask

When a customer lies, it may not be for the reasons you think.

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THE RESTAURANT IS a favorite of mine. The food is good, and it’s fun and kinda funky. When we sat down to meet for this first date, I had no expectations. The conversation was fast and fun, and so we decided to order dinner. He ordered a burger and fries, me a salad.

When the food came, the female server set it down with a flourish, and it looked great. I barely had a moment to admire my salad when the man sitting opposite me said, “The fries are cold.”

The server was momentarily stunned but quickly recovered and said, “I’ll bring you new ones.” And she hightailed it out of there to have a word with the kitchen.

There was a pause, so I said, “I’m so sorry you got a bad order, this place is usually great.” Because, of course, I’m feeling bad for suggesting a place that, it turns out, serves cold food. What does that say about my taste and judgment?

Then he said, “No worries, the fries aren’t really cold. There’s just not enough, so now they’ll bring more.”

I blinked in stunned silence and then gathering my wits about me asked, “Do you do this often?” To which he said, “Only when I think I’ve been shorted on something.”

Think about this for a moment. Where do you land on the right or wrong of this exchange?

As a consumer, you might agree that if you feel shorted in service, or product, or value, it’s within your rights to complain or ask … but to lie?

As a business owner, you may feel outraged and taken advantage of by a customer who is clearly misleading you or your team for additional gain.

Here’s my take from a leadership standpoint:

  • Pause to take a breath. This can allow you to get emotions in check.
  • Smile. This may be forced — after all, they are bringing up a complaint.
  • Ask a question. This is the best thing however only if it’s a question that still makes the customer feel in control (rather than wrong), and it clarifies the real issue.

The example in this instance may have been that the server could have paused, smiled and asked, “Do you want me to replace them?”

Since the answer is most likely yes, then take the whole meal away.

If you get pushback — “It’s OK, just bring me more fries” — this is when you know the real intent behind the comment, and you can say, “If the fries (or whatever the complaint is) are not to your liking, we must check your whole meal so you are completely satisfied.”

If you have a pet business, you’re not selling fries, of course. However, you do have some customers who are hard to satisfy, and they can surprise you or take advantage of you, all the while feeling justified in doing so. Luckily, the same techniques will work: Pause, smile, ask a question.

Think about and discuss with your team the kinds of questions that are able to get to the bottom of the issue (or customer intent) without making the customer feel wrong.

For me, I learned several things that evening, the most important being to put myself in the position of both the customer and the business owner. If all of us did that more, maybe the experience for everyone would be better.

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