Louie, You’re Fired; The Need To End Well

IMG_0828Louie is a superstar in his training class, and he actually understands his training commands at home. He welcomes guests when they enter my home—thanks to training him with a delicious special treat—and sits patiently while they enter. He waits to be released and then slowly examines my guests, starting at their feet. He’s learned not to jump, although he get excited and must be reminded constantly to settle down.

Despite the amount of time and work we’ve invested, he has one consistently bad behavior. Once someone is settled in at the table or on the couch, if they make a move to go into the kitchen or the bathroom, he will charge after them. Obviously, this is unacceptable behavior! No one believes Louie does this until they see it happen.

Louie and I have discussed this problem: we have asked neighbors to practice with us; I have been extremely firm with him when he goes after guests; and finally I’ve removed him from the activity. Yet this behavior persists.

I know he is being territorial, and I attribute it to the fact that he has it so good here that he doesn’t want to share it. But at this point, if Louie were my employee, I would fire him!

Or would I?

Many times our star performers demonstrate a consistently bad behavior, and we make excuses for them. We ignore the bad behavior as long as they continue to perform. In addition, we will excuse the behavior of others who aren’t performing simply because we love them. Basically, we avoid disengaging with employees because it is never easy and it almost always gets ugly.

I had a friend who was in the process of disengaging with an employee. “We must end this well,” were his words and they resonated with my heart. Not very many leaders care about ending well. They want to eliminate the “poison” as quickly as possible and finally have a good team.

This reminded me of the saying, “All’s well that ends well.” Endings are necessary but a “good” ending is essential. Even if things have not gone well, ending a relationship (whether it’s personal or professional) in a positive and growth-promoting way can repair things.

Often we recognize that an ending is imminent but instead of doing the hard work to end things well, we lapse into fear, insecurity and pride, which leads to a reactionary response. Sometimes quick terminations are best but even then, seeking to end things well is necessary in order to benefit everyone involved, even other employees.

What does ending well look like? Without getting into human resource debates, each individual situation should be handled differently. I’d like to challenge leaders if it is clear that an employee is not the best fit for the position, then have an honest conversation about it. This is, of course, risky. But it is better than turning into the Queen (or King) of Hearts, wielding an axe, and yelling, “Off with their head,” because someone shared their feelings about things not working out. It is important to always end well. It is not easy, but for the sake of your culture, it is very important. When it’s possible, preserve the personal relationship even if the professional one has to end. This goes for friendships, too. Don’t burn bridges and try to avoid bitterness and regret when relationships evolve.

Since this is a dog blog, I’ve also reflected on the end of life for all of my pups. How do you end well? It is heart wrenching to take that last drive to the vet and carry them in your arms, knowing it will be the last time you hold them. As tough as that decision was for each dog I’ve loved, I knew when it was time. I made sure I was nose to nose with my pup so they could look into my eyes as their life slowly slipped away. I wanted them to know they were deeply loved, and I was intentional about ending well.

As for Louie, of course, I will not be firing him any time soon so I’m not accepting requests for his resume at this time. He does make office visits and is a stellar dog in the workplace. And you are welcome to come to my home anytime…at your own risk!

 Louie acts a bit like this fellow…

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Louie is Afraid of Big, Black Dogs!

Louie and I just finished our first night of training and much to my surprise he was a superstar. In fact, the trainer took him to the middle of the arena and practiced with him as the model dog. I was shocked and wished I could have grabbed my phone to take a picture. At first, he was a little apprehensive when she took hold of his leash but as soon as she circled him around to face me, he performed like a champ. He trotted in grand style, sat when he was told to sit, and did everything he and I practiced over the last week. I was amazed.

Something strange happened at the end of our training time. There was a very high level of energy in the facility while other groups of dogs were coming in as the previous class disbanded. Louie immediately picked up on this. He became very anxious and started a very low soft growl at the large black lab he had stood next to all night long. I immediately responded by correcting him and removed him from the ring. Crisis averted! We trotted off and headed for home.

This reminded me of something I’ve noticed about Louie. He seems very fearful of large black or dark brown dogs. I recognize this may be due to an aggressive stand the other dog may take toward him. But there are a few large black or chocolate labs who frighten Louie even if they are just walking with their owners. Sometimes, if the dog locks eyes with Lou he will take on a macho attitude and act like he’s tougher than he looks.

I’m not sure where this comes from except that Louie has a very good memory. He remembers the cat from whom he took a beating; he remembers a man and cigar smoke because a neighbor walks his dogs while smoking cigars and Louie has a very strong reaction to the smell even when the man is nowhere in sight. So some time in his past, Louie must have had a negative experience with a large black dog.

There are a couple exceptions to this fear. There is a large dark brown Doberman down the street named Rowan who is really good friends with Louie. They love to romp around with each other. Louie is so short, he fits right underneath Rowan, but apparently neither one of them have noticed. While the power of relationships is not a new phenomenon to me, I realize how important relationships are in helping dogs overcome their fears of other dogs. Much like humans, dogs remember things that frighten them or make them uncomfortable. And they will react with fear or anxiety the next time they encounter a similar situation.

When Louie first met Rowan, I sensed this might happen. However, to change that reaction, I asked Rowan’s dad if Louie could check him out. He was more than happy to have Rowan sit so we could approach him very slowly and cautiously. Louie clearly sensed that Rowan was not an aggressive dog, and consequently they became friends.

This tendency to react strongly and often unconsciously to others is also typical of humans. Sometimes experiences have made us apprehensive of certain kinds of people—right or wrong. Unlike dogs, though, humans are easily taught not to trust or like another, and that message stays with us for a lifetime.

Unfortunately, those prejudices prevent us from building authentic relationships with people purely based on a bad experience with one person or what we have been wrongly taught over the years. Our world continues to witness the damage prejudging others has caused. And while it may seem almost too simple, being intentional about building relationships will dispel wrongful thoughts. It takes strength to not allow prejudices to control us or direct our actions and it takes courage to get out of our comfort zone.

Once Louie has an opportunity to get to know a dog of whom he might normally be frightened, he relaxes and starts to build a relationship. Now if I can just get him to drop the tough macho act, we’ll be making real progress.

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Watch Louie and his pal Rowan!

Read Steppin’ Out Of My Skin: Dispel Prejudices, Embrace the Power of Relationships

“Racial relations in America continue to be one of the country’s most challenging issues. Applause goes to Danise DiStasi for highlighting what an enormous block prejudice is and for suggesting ways it can be transmuted. Read and learn!”

Ken Blanchard, co-author of The One Minute Manager and The On Time, On Target Manager

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