Leadership Lessons From A Dog Owner

Aug 26, 2015 1 Min Read

I was planning to write a different post, and then stumbled on some photos of Deefa (D for dog) and Sam, our two golden retrievers.

The pictures made me smile – happy times and memories. Deefa moved to the United States with us, and lived to the ripe old age of 14½ (101 human years), ever the gentleman. I am told he barked with an English accent too.

We are currently “between dogs”. On the one hand, life is easier (no tumbleweeds of dog hair rolling across the floor and we can go out at the drop of a hat). On the other, the house feels empty (even with three teenage sons).

Then it came to me, the six leadership lessons that every dog owner (implicitly) learns that we can all learn and a different post emerged than the one I was intending to write (apologies in advance to you cat lovers!)

1. Bark like you mean it

Deefa didn’t bark very often. He knew he was a handsome dog.

When other dogs would bark at him, he would simply puff himself up in all his glory and look disdainfully at them with “Your yapping is annoying me” look.

However, when he did bark it was usually for a good reason, and we paid attention. We checked the perimeter, looked out of the window to find out what had upset him.

Once he was heard, he would settle back into his laconic style.

Leadership lesson:

There will be times when you have a contrary opinion, when you see impending disaster, when you simply need to understand the rationale behind a decision.

In these situations don’t be timid. Speak up, ask questions, share your perspective and concerns.

And then be quiet. Listen to others response, consider their perspective, and then make an informed decision as to whether you need to keep on barking.

2. Be part of the pack

Dogs enjoy company, both human and canine. If they don’t get the opportunity to socialise regularly then they can become stressed, and take it out on your furniture, etc.

Boredom can be avoided by ensuring they get regular exercise (the daily walk), playtime (we would take our dogs to agility classes) and the opportunity to be part of the family.

Leadership lesson:

Your team needs you, and they need each other, especially if your team is geographically dispersed and works virtually.

Ensure there are regular opportunities to collaborate, to socialise. To have fun. Check in regularly, especially if you travel. Note that this is a check-in, not a check-up.

Ask about their day, what questions you can answer, problems you can help resolve. Share the successes and progress of the team, the water-cooler conversations that might otherwise be missed. Build the connections and the sense of team.

3. Let them have their toys

Many dog manuals will advise that you take away your dog’s food or toys on a regular basis. Show them who is the “alpha dog” so that your dog will respect you.

Sounds good in theory. However, you may just end up being perceived as a bully (what’s the reverse term for anthropomorphism?)

In my experience, if you create the right boundaries and environment, your dog becomes an active member of the family, one who will readily share their food because they want to, not because you make them (and, no, I haven’t eaten dog food).

Leadership lesson:

The best leaders don’t need to prove that they are “top dog”. The best leaders ensure that everyone can play to their strengths, do the work they can thrive at and add value every day.
Take away these opportunities (whatever your ‘good’ intent) and you run the risk of the pack leaving you.

4. Don’t rub their nose in it

House training a puppy is exhausting. However having had two puppies I learnt that the “rubbing their nose in it” when they made a mistake (ie went to the loo in the house) didn’t really help.

Instead, they learnt much more quickly when I was proactive and took them outside frequently. In doing so, we avoided the accidents indoors and the dogs learnt to ask to go outside or to respond to “Let’s go walk about”.

Leadership lesson:

Learning happens in the moment. Your team members are human and mistakes will happen. Rubbing their noses in it won’t help create a culture of innovation and informed risk-taking, quite the reverse.

Look for everyday coaching moments, anticipate the learning need and make peer mentoring part of how you and your team operate.

5. Pick up the poop lying around

Dogs poop. Well they do. And as much as there are signposts around my neighbourhood saying “clean up after your dog”, it would seem that not only can dogs not read, some of the owners can’t either!

As Sam and Deefa’s pack owner it was my responsibility to clean up after them.

Leadership lesson:

If your team members mess up, then it is up to you to clean it up. Don’t point fingers, don’t ascribe blame.

Help clean up the mess and don’t simply leave it lying around for someone else to step in.

6. Speak to them, not shout at them

Dogs tend to have pretty good hearing. Though it sometimes feels like it can be selective hearing! Both Sam and Deefa would occasionally “go deaf” while out on a walk, especially when a particularly interesting smell caught their attention.

However, on the whole, they were always paying attention and would come running when called or if we turned around to walk the other way.

So, why is it so many dog owners feel the need to scream and shout at their dogs? Your dog doesn’t actually speak English. When you shout, all they know is that you are mad at them.

Think “Charlie Brown’s Teacher” they hear the canine equivalent of “wah, wah, wah [insert dog’s name] wah, wah”.

They may understand that you want them to do something, but screaming and shouting is only likely to make them choose to run off and avoid you.

Leadership lesson:

Beware crying wolf. If you are consistently berating your team, or providing negative feedback don’t be surprised if your team members stop paying attention.

If your team are not delivering the results expected then shouting louder doesn’t make it easier for anyone to understand what needs to happen differently.

7. Lead the way, with enthusiasm

One thing I could guarantee after a long day at work was that Deefa and Sam would be the first to greet me when I got home.

That’s not to say the family didn’t want to, but it’s doggy nature to push their way to the front of the crowd, to be waiting at the door with tails wagging and tongues hanging out to greet the returning family member.

Leadership lesson:

The leadership experience matters. Your team members are observing you and your leadership style.

Make sure you are at the [metaphorical] door to greet them, that they feel welcomed and a valued member of your team. That you are leading with enthusiasm.

Question to ponder

What leadership lessons have you learnt from your animal family members?

Morag Barrett is the best-selling author of Cultivate: The Power of Winning Relationships and CEO of SkyeTeam (www.skyeteam.com), an international HR consulting and leadership development company. Morag’s experience ranges from senior executive coaching to developing leaders and teams across Europe, America and Asia. For more articles on leadership and personal development, visit www.leaderonomics.com. Send us your feedback at editor@leaderonomics.com. For more Thought Of The Week articles, click here.

Reposted with permission on Leaderonomics.com

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Morag is the best-selling author of Cultivate: The Power of Winning Relationships and CEO of SkyeTeam, an international HR consulting and leadership development company. Her experience ranges from senior executive coaching to developing leaders and teams across Europe, America and Asia.

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