VIEWPOINT: To manage best, whisper while you work

In 1998, Robert Redford played the lead role in the film “The Horse Whisperer.” Redford’s character, Tom Booker, a Montana rancher (aka the horse whisperer), had a special way with horses, especially the traumatized kind. His quiet power of connection could rehab even the most troubled case. Although based on a novel, the movie shed light on an actual equestrian training technique that focuses on a deep understanding of horse psychology to effectively communicate with the creatures. And now that concept has gone to the dogs.

On Friday evenings, the National Geographic Channel telecasts “Dog Whisperer with Cesar Millan,” its toprated program. Millan can train the most incorrigible canines, enthralling his fans with his uncanny ability to get dogs to behave.

In a recent New York Times interview, Millan revealed the secret of his success with unruly dogs: “What makes you become a pack leader is being in a calm, assertive state 100 percent of the time.” The dog whisperer’s words of wisdom should be of interest to management professionals, especially those wondering why they never fully achieve the results they’re after.

It’s no small thing to manage in the typical high-speed, stress-filled, performancedriven workplace. And to do so with a steady air of calm and just the right dose of situational assertiveness might seem impossible for many. Horses and dogs may have minds of their own, but they don’t come equipped with the mental complexity of human beings. Tricky critters, them people.

For a manager, no two days are ever alike. Expect the unexpected, and handle it accordingly. Maintain productivity whatever the prevailing conditions. The corner office wants to see positive bottom-line results-no excuses. In a sense, the manager’s staff members are even more demanding. They may act out their need for greater understanding through lessthan-capable performance, poor behaviors and bad attitudes. These symptoms of dissatisfaction often indicate that they want to be managed by someone who really walks the talk. Someone who knows how to connect with employees on a deeper level concerning the role they play in the organization’s mission. Someone who can bring out their very best.

A people whisperer.

People whispering calls for a unique mix of talents and character traits, including: an enlightened understanding of human behavior in the workplace, an uncommon capacity for listening and observing, the ability to meet people where they are, a knack for problem solving, assertiveness when it counts, unflappable calm, integrity and trustworthiness, affection for employees shown through fair treatment, respect for the unique gifts each employee brings to the workplace, an unflagging belief in human potential, and an inspirational presence to match. People whispering isn’t magic, nor is it a gift for the chosen few. It’s an ongoing onthe-job course of study in what really makes people tick in the workplace, and humanely applying the lessons. And the greatest lesson is this: As a manager, when you whisper while you work, you’ll be amazed by how many people are really listening.

Mulherin is an organizational development consultant specializing in service improvement, dialogue facilitation, organizational communication and workplace ethics. He can be reached at 257-6128 or at

Please enable JavaScript to view this content.

Story Continues Below

Editor's note: You can comment on IBJ stories by signing in to your IBJ account. If you have not registered, please sign up for a free account now. Please note our updated comment policy that will govern how comments are moderated.