Animal Psychology

We canlearn a lot about why people conduct themselves the way they do by watching ourpets and other animals. This premise might seem goofy at first, but I swearit’s true.

Our familyhas two German shepherds. Axel, the big burley brother, weighs about 100pounds; Greta, the not-so-petite sister, weighs about 70 pounds. I often takethem on walks in the woods behind our house. Whenever we go, Axel has to be thelead dog. Axel runs up ahead, turns around, runs back full speed, and mowsGreta down. After he knocks her down, he growls at her, covers her neck withhis mouth and pins her to the ground for a few seconds. Then he’s up and off running,and does it all over again.

What’sreally going on here? Axel is doing what comes naturally for the dominant alphamale. He is asserting his dominance and making sure his sister knows about itevery chance he gets.

What in theworld does any of this have to do with Windows NT/2000 in the enterprise?Plenty!

A couple ofyears ago, I visited an organization that was using an onsite consultant I willcall Jim. One of the system administrators at this organization was a veteranemployee and one of the cockiest people I ever met. Let’s call him John. Johnwas one of those people who jealously guarded his knowledge about key pieces oftechnology in his organization: This gave him lots of power. Jim was thecontractor who needed John’s inside knowledge to finish a project.

I happenedto be standing in a center isle between rows of cubicles and facing thecomputer room door. Jim was walking from my right toward the computer roomdoor. John and his entourage were walking from my left toward the computer roomdoor. John’s entourage followed closely behind and seemed to hang on John'severy move. John and Jim met in front of the computer room door, and Johndecided he wanted to go inside the computer room.

Instead ofreaching for his own badge, John reached over to Jim’s shirt pocket, grabbedJim’s badge, ran it through the badge reader, and then stuffed Jim’s badge backinto Jim’s pocket. John and his entourage walked crisply into the computer roomand left Jim standing there, wondering what was going on.

Just likeAxel, John decided to assert his dominance that day. He had the power in thisorganization and he wanted Jim to know it.

Severalyears ago, while waiting on a flight at O’Hare Airport in Chicago, I saw agroup of well-dressed men preening on the other side of the gate area. Thislooked amusing, so I walked a little closer. They were telling stories abouttheir latest accounting conquests and each was trying to one-up the other aboutsome detail they found on somebody’s financial statements. Several attractivewomen were sitting nearby and these guys were actually strutting for them.

I live inMinnesota, land of 17,000 lakes and more ducks than I can count. This showreminded me of a bunch of Mallards trying to attract females. It had all theelements: colorful males, competition, and an audience of females pretending toignore the males while quietly deciding on the winner. It was hard to keep fromlaughing.

At ourcore, we’re not much different than the animals all around us. Our rituals maybe subtler and a little more complicated, but the basics are the same.

Armed withthis insight, watch for these behaviors inside various organizations. Look forthe dominant members of the group. Are they legitimate leaders, or are theyhiding behind a façade of aggressiveness, protecting their position andhoarding their knowledge.

Decidewhere you fit. Are you a dominant or submissive member of your organization?Are you determined to challenge the leader for dominance? If so, be prepared toface the consequences of an unsuccessful challenge: Remember, animals thatchallenge their dominant leaders are often banished from the pack.

Are you asubmissive member at the bottom of the hierarchy, operating at the whim of thedominant people in the group? This could explain why somebody else always getsthe juicy projects and you get stuck with dead-end assignments. Think of itthis way. In many animal groups, the dominant members get the first food andsubmissive members get leftovers. If you want those nifty projects, it might betime to assert yourself in a positive way. --GregScott, Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE), is chief technology officerof Infrasupport Etc. Inc. (Eagan, Minn.). Contact him at

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