Lessons I’ve Learned About Leadership from Dogs

dog165216056The other day I was running with my dogs Eddie (a medium size mutt) and Mulder (a Pit Bull). Eddie was falling behind, he is almost 13 and starting to get to the point where I may have to take him on shorter runs and not expect him to keep up. I am starting to adjust my expectations of what he can do, so when he falls behind I start saying, “Come on Eddie, you sweet boy… come on… you can do it!” This encourages him and he picks up the pace.  But, if I did something like yank his leash or yell at him it would not work, if anything he would slow down or even stop.

On the other hand, the issue I have with Mulder when we run is he wants to stop and pee on everything.  Drives me bonkers!  If I said to him in a sweet voice, “Mulder, please stop peeing on everything,” he would ignore me and the behavior would continue. However, I give his leash a little tug and he gets back with the program. 

Not the same approach works with both of them and I have to adjust my approach with them to get the desired reaction.  The same goes with people. As a sales engineer I supported over 100 sales reps, so obviously my time was limited. When someone was impolite to me I was not as apt to help them over someone who seemed to appreciate me. It’s hard to admit but the truth is we are prone to go extra for people who value others time. If I went around demanding things (yanking on leashes) I am sure no one would go above and beyond for what I am asking for.

I have learned to go the extra mile by letting managers know when their employees go the extra mile or do a wonderful job. I’m sure not everyone will care about being recognized for their work with their managers, but until I can figure out what they do appreciate it is a start. As I am getting to know new employees and co-workers I am paying attention to what pushes their buttons and what they like. This is important because I do work with them and depend on them doing things for me and  I really do appreciate their effort. 

With dogs and people it is important to lead by example. When the dogs and I are approaching other dogs, I’ve found that if I start to act nervous they pick up on it and act out by barking and pulling towards the other dogs. If I pull their leashes closer to me and remain a step ahead of them, they do not even bother showing the other dogs attention.  I am the leader of the pack of dogs and when you are a manager you are the leader, too.  They say dogs want a leader and routine, and I think that’s what a lot of us look for in our bosses.

To get the dogs to be excited I have to do different things for each of them. I know Eddie does not care about treats, but Layla (an Akita) is the only one who loves to chase after balls, and Mulder just wants to have some attention. I needed to figure out what each of them cares about. It is the same in a team environment, when I was in sales I can tell you that money was nice but appreciation and recognition of my hard work was just as good, if not better. It is not good for a manager to just assume that what motivates him/her or the majority of the group works for everyone. Honestly, even after 13 years I still try to test Eddie and give him treats every now and then. He still just walks away from them.

Having multiple dogs at one time has been a challenge at times. Of course, they each have their own personality and are not always a team that gets along. I have had to make decisions that were not the best decision for an individual, but worked for the overall well being of the dog pack. When Eddie was 8 I brought Layla into the mix. She was a puppy and I take full blame for not doing my research on her. I went to the animal shelter to get a new dog after my beloved Collins passed away, and fell in love. Her puppy cuteness suckered me in and I did not do any research on her breed. I figured she was a puppy and would be fine. We do that with people as well. If they are new, inexperienced, right out of school we think we can mold them, train them, and get them to be the perfect employee for our organization.  Often, we worry that people with more experience have developed habits we may not like and that they may not be moldable.

I am certainly not the dog whisperer myself and I know I can improve on some things. If my furry, four-legged children could talk I am sure they would tell you where my shortcomings are and what I need to work on. Good leaders are constantly adjusting and learning.

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1 comment

  1. Elf Boxes Florida Reply

    I’m a big fan of the dog whisperer and one thing i always notice is that Caesar says that if you are not confident, the dog will pick up on that. I think when delegating it’s important to have the inner stuff like confidence handled. If you don’t believe in yourself, then neither will your workers and they won’t follow a weak or insecure leader.

    And the dog training is a good metaphor too because the Dog Whisperer always emphasizing that consistency in your training and correction is important.