OCC hosts Leadership Training event with guide dogs

By: Sherri Kolade | Farmington Press | Published September 19, 2017

 Waterford-based speaker Jeff Hawkins shows the group how his dog, Gracie, knows the difference between when she is working and when she is allowed to play. She was in work mode, leading him to the door.

Waterford-based speaker Jeff Hawkins shows the group how his dog, Gracie, knows the difference between when she is working and when she is allowed to play. She was in work mode, leading him to the door.

Photo by Donna Agusti

AUBURN HILLS — A special group of dogs had some training tips for college staff recently. 

An Oakland Community College Economic Workforce Development Leadership Training session Sept. 12 offered a new program through Leader Dogs for the Blind at the Auburn Hills campus. The program, called Harness the Power of Leadership, included networking, training and more.

Joe Bommarito, OCC business development manager of economic and workforce development, said in a press release that the event is designed for human resources and training directors.

“Harness the Power of Leadership demonstrates how a Leader Dog is trained and the trust that is built between guide dogs and clients,” Bommarito said in a press release. “We then translate this training for business application.”

The employee development program, offered at OCC by Leader Dogs for the Blind, teaches practical leadership, management and teamwork ideas relative to the professional community, the release states.

“People learn better when they are engaged in the learning process. This program challenges participants to learn the Leader Dog model and its related leadership concepts, which helps teams become more productive and cohesive by working together,” David Bann, corporate engagement manager for Harness the Power of Leadership, said in a press release. He said that people call him all the time to report that the program helped them.

“Often months after taking the program, (people call) to tell me how impactful working with the dogs has been in everyday business application.”

Speaker Jeff Hawkins, of Waterford, a former paramedic who has macular degenerative disorder, was at the training session with his guide dog, Gracie, a yellow Lab.

Hawkins said guide dogs need structure, and it is important to train them during playtime and business time, so that when they lead people who are blind, the dogs can be trusted in different environments and situations. 

“All of us (at the event) come from a business background. If you look at this program, (it is) so simple,” Hawkins said. “You can create this culture in (any) organization, whether it is five or 5,000 (people).”

Speaker Michael Cox, a Leader Dogs for the Blind representative from Augusta, Georgia, said trust and recognition of accomplishments are important in the guide dog-client relationship and in business relationships.

Cox added that guide dogs must have the ability to exercise intelligent disobedience, “the dog’s ability to say no.”

“I know you want to cross the street, but we’re not going to do it now; you can’t see the electric car coming down the road, but I can,” he said, giving voice to a guide dog’s thought process. “How do we transfer that intelligent disobedience into an empowered workforce?”

He said trust seems to be rare in the world, but leaders and companies want to be able to trust their workforce.

“We talk about that trust. … We have in our dogs the trust to stand at a busy street corner,” Cox said.

Hawkins said trust takes time to build.

“It takes time to build this culture. It takes time for us to be these guide dog teams; it’s a commitment to plan and sticking to it no matter what,” Hawkins said. “Just being aware of people and what type of recognition really hammers home to them.”

Program attendees put on blindfolds and worked with the guide dogs to learn new business techniques, according to the release. Leader Dog clients have demonstrated professional success using their experiences with the Leader Dogs for the Blind program.

“The standard to become a Leader Dog is extremely high. Dogs that graduate are capable of keeping our clients safe regardless of the situation they encounter. The capabilities, intelligence and commitment of each Leader Dog is simply amazing,” said Bann in the release.

Doug Smith, OCC executive director of economic and workforce development, said during a phone interview that OCC is pleased to have partnered with Leader Dogs for the Blind.

“That process they use, I think, the core of it is truly teamwork,” he said, adding that he has been involved in economic development his whole career.

“The ... things that are so important that most employers tell you are missing from employees as well as new hires is simply communication skills, self-discipline … responsibility for your actions, and teamwork,” he said. “These are the ... skill sets that are most missing.”

Smith said this is the first training program where OCC has partnered with Leader Dogs for the Blind.

“This was using that process that we have for training and the dogs themselves and applying that,” he said.

For more information about the Harness the Power of Leadership workshop through Leader Dogs for the Blind, call David Bann at (248) 218-6318 or email dave.bann@leaderdog.org.