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I Went Dog Sledding and This is What I Learned (and it's not What you Think)


I recently returned from one of the best vacations of my life. What made it so? For starters, I knocked a few things off my bucket list. (Northern lights? Check. Fjord cruise? Check. Thanks, Scandinavia!)

Plus, I saw first-hand how my college-age daughter is thriving in her study abroad program in Copenhagen.

I was also finally in a position where I felt I could really take my hands off the wheel for the first time in three years thanks to an incredible team. (I'm looking at you, Priya Ponnuswamy, Lou Centrella, and Jon Adkins!)

But what really made the experience pop to the top, were the surprise and delight moments. (This phrase still has legs, amiright, trade show marketers?)

Like, for instance, the sunny, crisp, -20 degrees (yes, you read that right) morning we spent dog sledding. Aside from the incredible mountain scenery, the feeling of accomplishment at trying and succeeding at something completely out of our comfort zones, and the sheer exhilaration from the ride itself, the experience was life changing in terms of what it means to be part of a team, and more importantly, what it means to lead a team.

First, some background. The team included my 21-year-old daughter as the "driver," me as the passenger, and six dogs all working together to pull, steer, and control the sled. The dogs have one speed: Fast. And as the driver, really your only job is to control the speed. The dogs work in pairs: two in the front, two in the middle, and two in the rear. With that in mind, here are my top five takeaways from the hours on the trail with this team.

1. Fit: By this I don't mean "in good shape," although these dogs, who can run 250 kilometers in a day, certainly qualify. Rather, this point is about how the dogs self-select for the job they are best at. For example, the trainers will try young dogs several times in the front spot. Those who are up for the responsibility make it clear that they are ready for the challenge. Conversely, the young pups who have no interest make that clear -- sometimes even going so far as to just plop down and refuse to move in a no-mistake-about-it sit-down protest. (As an aside, our lead dogs were female. Way to represent, ladies!)

2. Fear: By the same token, the bravest and most hard-working dogs bring up the rear. In our case, it was a pair of males. This part of the team is fearless (if the sled gets out of control, they are the ones who will get plowed down) and strong, because they do most of the hard work. These dogs also kept us honest, if they felt we weren’t pulling our weight, they had no issue with turning around and giving us the stink eye.

3. Loyalty: One of the first things the instructors emphasized in our training, was to keep the dog teams separate. Why? Because it even one dog from a team starts bickering with one on another team, a melee will ensue as the dogs leap into a mosh pit of trying to defend their own. Obviously, I wouldn’t recommend taking this one literally at your workplace, but this fierce loyalty and commitment to the team is very inspirational.

4. Confidence: Remember when I said our lead dogs were female (^^A couple of floors up)? I admired these bitc…err…leaders for their sheer confidence. Those ladies were not plagued with self-doubt or worried if their harness made them look fat or if their fur had gray hair. Nope. Not one single &%#@ was given. They were there to do their job and that’s what they did, balls (?!) to the wall.

5. Joy. Finally, for those of you who are thinking, “Those poor dogs! How cruel to make them pull those sleds and work so hard!” I got your feels all day and then the next. I was totally conflicted about this. But then I witnessed first-hand how the dogs absolutely lost their sh*t at the thought of going out on a run. Literally, they strained at their leads, bouncing up and down hitting three feet of air at the idea of getting started. Honestly, I felt bad at not being able to provide them with more opportunities! Clearly, they find work to be joyful.

One last point. At a time when gender equality is in the forefront, it was a breath of fresh air (see what I did there?) to see a team built based purely on skill, character, and heart. We should all be so lucky.

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