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From Puppy to Partner: What Training Hunting Dogs Taught Me About Succession Planning


Harry T. Jones and his dogs Roddey & Flash
Roddey, Flash & Harry T. Jones

As a young boy, watching my father and his friends find solace in the fields and forests, hunting with their trusted canine companions impacted me. The pressures of their jobs seemed to melt away as they worked in tandem with their dogs, pursuing game and enjoying the camaraderie of the hunt. The lessons I absorbed watching those men and their dogs have shaped my approach to business and leadership decades later.


Buying my first farm as a young man, the tradition continued, getting my first puppy. Training him was a journey of patience, consistency, and gradual progress. Great hunting dogs aren’t made overnight - they are the result of countless hours of guidance, trust-building, and incremental skill development.


There are a lot of parallels between raising a hunting dog and preparing an organization for its future. Succession planning follows many of the same principles.


START EARLY

Early training in a pup's life is important. Early attention to shaping his instincts and abilities is crucial and can’t be delayed. This starts by teaching them to love nature, chase butterflies, and stalk the birds, exposing their senses to all the titillations of the outdoors. Failing to do this hinders them from finding and honing their natural instincts.


In the same way, the earlier entrepreneurs start the conversations of succession planning, the better. Building a team takes time, it cannot be done in a day. The financial fallout of trying to sell a business after a crisis, without a prepared successor, often blindsides leaders.


Building a team requires a long-term perspective and a commitment to steadily building strength. You want to identify promising talent early and invest in their development, much like spotting the potential in a young bird dog.


GRADUAL INCREASE IN RESPONSIBILITY

Gradually increasing a dog’s responsibilities in the field, from basic obedience to more complex tasks, mirrors the way you will groom future leaders. In the same way, you will give your team members opportunities to stretch, learn, and prove themselves, all while providing guidance and support. It takes patience and consistency, but the payoff is a capable, confident partner in the field and in business.


PAIR EXPERIENCE WITH INEXPERIENCE

When you know what a pup or team member is good at, you can craft their training. You will see quicker results when you pair inexperienced pups with experienced and fully seasoned older dogs. Be aware, older dogs with bad habits will teach younger pups the same errors. In the same way, you will maximize your inexperienced team member’s potential when you pair them with experienced team members. Don’t forget that attitudes are contagious. You want to pick the right mentors for your team.


BEGIN WITH THE END IN MIND

When training hunting dogs, you want to always hold the hoped-for end result in mind. The goal for my dogs is for them to spend their finishing-well years with a foster family that adores them. A couple who love older animals has adopted one of my dogs, Roddey, after serving me well for a dozen years. He is so loved. Fenced-in yard, lots of car rides, more dog beds in the house than he will ever need. They also have another dog and don’t go anywhere their dogs can’t go with them! Roddey’s litter mate brother, Flash, is also with a foster family to finish well.


For the entrepreneur, finishing well involves passing on a legacy business that continues to make a profit, bless its community, and advance its purpose for generations. It is about cementing your legacy and an enduring vision.


Today, in my “finishing well” years, I still find joy in connecting to the land through hunting with my dogs and friends. The bonds forged in the field are not unlike the relationships built through mentoring and shared challenges in business. And as I contemplate finishing strong, there is comfort in knowing that the lessons learned from my hunting dogs serve me well.


Ultimately, whether in the field or the boardroom, it’s about more than just achieving a goal. It’s about the journey of growth, the relationships fostered, and the satisfaction of knowing you’ve played a part in something divine. And that, I believe, is the essence of both a fulfilling hunt and a successful succession.


Harry T. Jones


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