Who’s Your Guard Dog?

I take multiple walks through my neighborhood to get my steps in. Most of the time, I pass the houses and it’s quiet, just me and my rollator and my thoughts.

One house, however, has a totally adorable little white dog on the first floor. Every time I pass by that house, the dog barks at me. Every time. Coming and going.

This dog is an amazing guard dog. (This is not a picture of the neighborhood dog, but this image looks a lot like the neighborhood dog.)

I’ve seen people as guard dogs, too.

Some people guard the people on their team. Some people guard their managers. These folks are gatekeepers. They might not literally bark at other people, but they have a way of letting you know you are not yet in their “trusted friends” category. True gatekeepers keep very few people in the “trusted friends” category. Often, those “friends” are people higher up in the hierarchy.

Sometimes, we need guard dogs, the gatekeepers. When my children were young, I was their gatekeeper, helping them to learn to manage their capabilities and responsibilities, from play dates when they were young to homework time when they became older. When they were teenagers, I was the gatekeeper for the car.

As they became adults, Mark and I set constraints on the behavior we wanted. We were no longer their gatekeepers. Responsible adults don’t need much in the way of gatekeeping.

I have been the gatekeeper on behalf of teams and groups of people in the organization. When my managers didn’t manage the organization’s project portfolio, I was the gatekeeper for the people, managing the projects that flowed in and out. (Yes, that’s an example of a lower-status person gatekeeping from upper-status people.)

As a consultant, I often encounter gatekeepers in organizations. I encounter gatekeepers in my doctor’s offices. They guard the people’s time and capabilities from what they perceive as frivolous or non-important queries or work.

How do you move around those gatekeepers, those guard dogs?

  • You can try to make friends. Depending on the circumstances, that can work. I’ve made friends with clients who wanted to interrupt people on my team directly. I helped them see they would get what they wanted by working with me, not around me.
  • You can go up the organization. I tried to make friends with one of my doc’s office staff, but they ignored my phone calls. I complained to their higher-ups and got the information I needed, that one time. I eventually fired that doctor because of continued non-response. (I am sure he doesn’t care!)
  • You can go around them. One of the reasons I self-publish my books is to not have to ask permission from gatekeepers. Just because a publisher doesn’t want this book now doesn’t mean I shouldn’t write it or publish it.

I have to admit, I tend to go around as my default option. You might not have the freedom I have, so consider your other options. Maybe you can see more options than I’ve suggested here.

Guard dogs/gatekeepers guard the status quo, which doesn’t always fit the new circumstances.

That’s the question this week: Who’s your guard dog?

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