Lessons in Leadership – that I learned from a dog

I wrote this for a company newsletter, but thought I’d post here as well:

Anyone who has spent two minutes in my office, or has spoken to me for more than five, knows I am truly passionate about animal rescue and the well-being of those less fortunate than me.

Dogs, much like humans, all have different experiences, backgrounds and needs.  Some are more sensitive than others; some need my constant attention while others just want to do their thing and are content to be left on their own.  Most of my foster dogs have loved my forever dog, Flipflop, and got along with my cats. Others were scared of the cats, or only liked the cats and not Flipflop.  Just like people, they have their likes and dislikes.

As the foster mom, just like as a leader, I need to assess each dog and what their needs are and how they best respond to my demands (or expectations). I need to learn how to communicate to each foster so my message is clearly understood.

While it’s easy for me to want to coddle and baby each dog, especially the ones from abusive pasts, I had to learn that coddling dogs (just as when we coddle our employees), is not productive.  The dog does not respond to or respect me as their leader when I do not set boundaries.

My most recent foster has a very sad history of neglect and abuse and I found myself wanting to make up for all her past trauma.  For those of you familiar with dogs, you can imagine what this led to.  By coddling this dog I wasn’t helping her improve or teaching her what my expectations were, I was allowing her to make her own rules and not respect me.

After three weeks of having breakdowns every day over this sweet dog that unfortunately ended up dictating my life and sky-rocketing my stress level, I realized she wasn’t the one out of control: I was.  By not setting firm but fair boundaries and not showing her proper discipline when she misbehaved, the dog felt she could do whatever she pleased. I was not a leader in her view.

With our employees, we must also be firm but fair and speak to them when they are displaying behaviour which is not in line with your organizations culture. Otherwise, they will not understand they are not performing to our expectations.  It is also important to reward for good behaviour, make sure our employees know when they are performing well and that we are proud of them. Without proper leadership, our employees will feel unsupported and that they have no accountability to their leader or the organization.

We all enjoy a structured place of work, knowing what the expectation is and our deliverables to achieve greatness.  Just like our canine companions, we look up to the strong leaders, who display tough love, are there to support us but also guide us to achieve our goals and be the best we can be.

While even a crazy dog lady like me recognizes dogs are NOT people, there are similarities in between being a strong leader for a dog as for our employees. So next time your dog (or employee) misbehaves, don’t be afraid to show your leadership side.  Remind them of the expectation, show them support and be their cheerleader when they shine.


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