We need a bit less Sapp¡ and a lot more Zapp!

undefinedOne of the best books on Leadership that I first read a long time ago is “Zapp! The Lightning of Empowerment”. I’ve even got a copy signed by the author, Bill Byham. Zapp! was named the number one business book of the 1990s in a survey of CEOs. I’ll save you the trouble of reading it (or Googling it) and cut to the main theme that runs through the book: every time you have a conversation with someone, they go away either Sapped or Zapped

With Zapp! conversations, people go away feeling energised, enthused and motivated. Sapp¡ conversations do the opposite; they suck the energy out of people and make them feel there is little point in having a conversation with you, asking for your help, or making suggestions for new ways of doing things.

Zapp! is particularly relevant at the moment, as we begin to emerge from the Coronavirus lockdown. So many things are uncertain and that, inevitably, makes many people feel uncomfortable (at best) or incredibly anxious (at worst). There is a real danger that people fall into conversations about what we can’t do, rather than what we can do.

Crowdsourcing great ideas

In the various dog sport communities online, there are numerous conversations about how shows and events could get up and running again, when government advice permits, of course. One of the potentially good things about social media is that it is a great way to crowdsource lots of ideas in a short space of time. A friend in a non-show discipline is collating a list of ideas that her club can make use of so that they can re-start group training and competitions. One of the venues that we use for our Club Open Shows has recently contacted us to ask for our requirements and ideas to enable them to reopen for our events. They will get a far better set of ideas by asking all their users than by their management team trying to come up with the answers.

While there are plenty of great ideas, many of the online (and offline) conversations seem to be filled with Sapp¡ comments:

  • “People wouldn’t be able to…”
  • “Nobody would…”
  • “It would be impossible to…”
  • “The KC would never…”

When I am running leadership development programmes and innovation workshops, I often talk about the importance of “Yes, and…” responses. All too often, people respond with “Yes, but…” and the result is Sapp¡, not Zapp! I’m not saying there shouldn’t be disagreement or challenge, it’s just a matter of how that is said or written. It wouldn’t take much longer to say or write something like “Yes, and we would also need to work out how to…” or “Yes, and we could also…”, or “what if we ask the KC if we could…”, all of which leaves people feeling rather more positive and hopeful.

Constructive turbulence

As we move out of lockdown, we are entering a phase of “restore, rebuild and recreate” when we can set out new directions for our sport. Airline pilots refer to “constructive turbulence”, recognising that a bumpy tailwind can get you to your destination much faster. We have that opportunity following this pandemic. The easy option, however, is to follow the urge to return to what we previously knew as normal. As we get back into post-lockdown routines, the temptation will be to restore canine events and Breed Club activities to what existed before. For example, do we really need people travelling for hours to attend committee meetings that last only a couple of hours? Online meetings are currently the norm, both at work and with family and friends; the technology is free and (mostly) reliable, so why would we not apply this to our club meetings? People have been running webinars on all sorts of canine topics and even holding teach-ins on judging and breed standards. Do we still need to “go to” seminars?

Changing culture when there is a longstanding way of doing things is never easy, particularly if people are desperate to hang on to what they were familiar with. We can start the constructive turbulence process by recognising what has been achieved during the crisis period. The Kennel Club’s online dog show in April had over 39,000 entries and achieved a reach of nearly 2.5 million people across social media. As I write this, the KC is running its YKC online show and has recently created a YKC Instagram account to engage that generation of young dog enthusiasts. One of our Dachshund Breed Clubs is running an online 9-class fun dog show and raising funds for our health charity. The pandemic has shown how quickly new ideas can be implemented and how much fun and enthusiasm they can create. 

Pushing an agenda to transform things is hard enough during the good times but doing it against the backdrop of a crisis like the Coronavirus pandemic is even more of a challenge. When leaders (Club chairmen, secretaries, and treasurers) are up to their necks in dealing with the impact of the current crisis, finding the time or energy to even talk about the future is a big ask. They should also bear in mind that worst-case scenarios very rarely materialise and should not be used as the basis for policy-making. It’s too easy to get anchored on the unlikely worst-case scenarios that result from Sapp¡ conversations.

Those whose livelihoods depend on keeping their customers engaged and happy are already innovating and adopting a “can do” approach. We are seeing that in the canine world and I hope the Zapp! conversations, online and offline, outweigh the Sapp¡ ones.

I’ll end with a quote from astronaut Chris Hadfield; “You can’t change the bricks, and together, you still have to build a wall”. 

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