Life Long Friends

IMG_3098I’ve written about Louie’s new gal pals moving into the neighborhood, Louie’s getting to know rambunctious puppies, and his tolerance (or occasional intolerance) of guests in our home. You’ve been introduced to his chest-bumping pal, Mick, his walking buddy Sully and his steady girls Eve and Ellie. But we’ve not talked about Sampson much. That’s because there’s not much to talk about. Sampson (or Sammy) is just a steady as you go, no drama kind of pup. And Louie loves that because Louie needs steady and stable.

Louie and Sammy met a few years ago. Sampson is an adorable pug who is occasionally stubborn while walking with his mom. But Louie rarely sees that side of Sammy. The pups happily acknowledge each other and then just walk side by side. Sammy waddles, Louie prances, and the pace seems to work for them both.

Lou can be who he is when he’s with Sampson. He can just simply be. It’s almost as though he lets out a long sigh and says, “Hey buddy.” And then they just walk together. They don’t romp around or chase each other. They just stroll.

While I have many friends and family members who love me just as I am, my lifetime friend Gina has known me since the day I was born. Our parents were friends long before we came along and despite their moving to L.A. when Gina and I were three, our parents remained friends and my friendship with Gina deepened over the years. To this day, Gina and I talk regularly and visit as often as possible.

The best thing about Gina is that I can be my authentic self with her. I don’t have to perform or jump through hoops or pretend or walk on egg shells. I learned about the power of vulnerability decades ago because my friendship with Gina helped me see the areas in my life that kept me from being real. It wasn’t a book or a training session or a counselor, although those are great tools. It was the power of relationship that brought me to where I am today.

Much like Louie and Sampson, Gina and I don’t have to be talking to feel close and can simply bask in the golden silence of true friendship. We have shared life’s sorrows including death of loved ones, divorce, remarriage and we’ve shared life’s joys such as the birth of each other’s children. We can call at 3 a.m. and one of us will answer the phone with, “What’s wrong?” We’ve been through sickness, job promotions, sixty birthdays and many Kauai sunsets. Through thick and thin, we will always be best friends.

I know Gina loves me enough to address a character flaw she may see in me long before others do. I trust her to be honest and caring, so I welcome her feedback. Some leaders think they are above feedback but without it, they can end up with negative consequences that affect their relationships as well as their job performance. We all need friends in our lives who act as a stopgap to our bad behavioral choices. And we must be willing to listen.

Every leader needs a Gina! And every leader needs to hear when their Gina says, “I’m not sure about that.” Just as every Louie needs a Sampson, a steady as you go, let’s walk side by side pal who cares more about you than they do themselves. These kinds of friends truly enrich our lives and make us better people, leaders…or pets!

Me and Gina (left), 1956 (And my sister Donna 🙂
Me and Gina
Me and Gina–still crazy after all these years!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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We Don’t Always Choose Whom We Lead! But We Can Choose How We Behave!

Untitled1“Why did you get that dog anyway?” my friend, Lynne, asked as we were eating, exasperated with Louie who had finally settled down after attacking her at the door. “He’s so different from what you’ve been used to.” (See picture of my past dogs to the left).

Good question, I thought to myself. Why did I get him? As I’m typing, he is trying to “bury” his chewy toy behind the sofa in the family room, and I have to shake my head and wonder. I’ve been accustomed to soft and fluffy, somewhat dainty, little dogs. There is nothing soft and fluffy about Louie, and certainly nothing dainty! And on days where the temperature is -5 degrees and we have to “go” outside, I have to ask why?

Well, I love him, first and foremost. And I did choose him, and it was not an emotional decision. He had character and a presence and I knew he needed me…and I needed him. That’s not how we typically select our employees, but sometimes when we accept a leadership position, there are people we lead whom we would like to help find other jobs. We shake our heads and wonder why on earth they are part of our team.

They may not act in familiar ways, they may seem a bit quirky, and there are probably days we wish they would simply resign. Then we start seeing signs of hope, we genuinely give affirmations and suddenly, we see improvement, ever so slight, but it’s there. We notice their contributions to the team, and our one-on-one times are more fulfilling.  We notice that they have hidden exceptional characteristics and potential, even though they lack what WE believe they need in order to be an exceptional employee.

Just like Louie, some people we lead are diamonds in the rough.  They appear very ordinary at first glance, and their true beauty as jewels is only realized through a very difficult process. A good leader is often faced with the dilemma of either taking time to invest in a person or deciding it’s time to let them go.

I believe every interaction we have with another human being has a purpose. And when I find myself spending time with someone because our roles intertwine, I must take a look at how I can best invest in this person’s life. I am willing to invest in others who:

  • Show genuine interest in professional and personal growth
  • Have a sense of self awareness and a personal vision
  • Are open to and welcome feedback, coaching and mentoring
  • Are committed to learning
  • Are willing to take risks
  • Posses self-management skills

As leaders we must be willing to invest in others, especially those who are so different from our expectations.  Sometimes we toss people aside because they don’t meet our needs or measure up to our standards.  A good leader recognizes that some people are placed in our life for the very purpose of refining us. Are we willing to give them our time, and invest in them? I realize there are times we do need to help others find another job, but most times it takes a refining process to bring out the best in others, and ourselves.

Louie is still burying his chewy and I am still shaking my head. I don’t mind spending time pouring into him because I see the potential and personality and I am the richer person for giving away my heart and my time! 

Be Present

Lou and EllieConfession time…I’m a multi-tasker and have trouble focusing on one thing at a time. In fact, I was one of those kids who received the checked box next to the comment, “Does not concentrate on task at hand,” on almost every report card throughout grade school.

To this day, I justify my struggle with focus by saying I am a very creative person and I need to live experientially and savor the richness of the world around me in order to be a better writer. However, I understood very early in life that if I did not learn to focus I would be in trouble. The only nun who was impressed with my creativity was my English composition teacher.  The others—not so much. So I became very intentional about focus and it has paid off.

Which brings us to Louie, who shares my struggle with focus. I recently shared with our trainer that he seems a bit skittish when I walk him in the dark and he has a hard time focusing on what he needs to do while we’re outside. The trainer reminded me that I am alpha, which means confidently leading Louie in a way that is fun and gives him safe freedom to do his thing, despite the darkness.

One beautiful morning, right before dawn, we walked a little further than normal and were moving at a pretty good clip. Since there was no one else around to whom Louie could react, I decided to check emails on my phone. In a flash, Louie jerked to the left, my phone went flying and three large creatures ran in front of us. They were harmless deer but they definitively startled Louie—and me. The deer moved on but it was a few minutes before my heart stopped racing and Louie settled down. As I picked up my phone, I had to shake my head…I know better than to check email, walk the dog, and pay attention to my surroundings simultaneously. Walking Louie only takes a small chunk of time each day, and he deserves my undivided attention—especially when we’re walking in the dark.

And so it is with our teams, loved ones, friends, and people in general. Yet, we pay so little attention to others and rarely give them our focus and undivided attention. We sit in restaurants on our phones, checking Facebook or seeing if we received that “important” text or email. If we are attentive, it is usually because we want to get our point across as soon as that person stops talking. Let’s face it; sometimes it’s easier to carry on “virtual” conversations than it is to fully engage in real ones.

There is no greater gift we can give someone than to be fully present. People long to be known and understood. And the best way to know someone is to intentionally focus on what they are saying by not only hearing their words but also hearing their heart. It takes time and effort to truly “hear” people, yet it is the best way to demonstrate that you value and honor them.

At the time of this writing, we were celebrating Christmas. What better time to practice being fully present with whomever you’re with. Take some time to truly focus on those around you and whom you spend time with. Be intentional, put down your phone, step away from the technological noise and listen to their words and pay attention to what their hearts might be saying. We’ve been given the best gift humanly possible through the birth of Christ. He modeled how to connect deeply with others. I once heard Willow Creek Community Church Founder Bill Hybels said. “You will never lock eyes with someone who does not matter to God.” I often remind myself of that as I sit across the table from someone, walk through Findlay Market, or take Louie on a walk and say hello to neighbors I only see occasionally throughout the winter months. I am intentional about locking eyes with others not because I learned this in a business course or from the latest new leadership guru, but because people matter to God and therefore matter to me!

The best present you can give to others is to be present with them.

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SAFE AND SOUND; The Key is Consistency

Dreamin'We usually express a deep sigh of relief when we hear the words “safe and sound” from a loved one.  The term is actually a Naval insurance term. Whenever a ship returned from a journey overseas, if everyone were ‘safe’ it meant there were no injuries or deaths. The ship was ‘sound’ if it had not suffered serious damage. So it is with Louie.

When Louie settles in for the night, I love on him, and invariably I hear his “safe and sound” sigh. His being content and safe is largely due to my consistent loving and firm behavior. He never has to guess how I am going to respond. He has learned that a certain behavior from him will evoke a certain response from me. I don’t let bad behavior persist and then pounce on him. I am consistent with his discipline and even more so with his rewards. Because of this, he feels safe and is responding very positively to his new environment.

Consistency doesn’t mean we are robotic. Louie loves variety and enjoys a new adventure or a new path to walk. And the point isn’t simply to be consistent. Anyone can be consistently bad! The point is to be consistently good. For the sake of this book, let’s stick with the good; my consistent behavior should always move Louie toward being a happier dog who loves his mama and his home! And so our leadership behaviors must be consistently moving our team toward having more trust, being more creative, experiencing contentment, and being more productive.

It is next to impossible to trust an inconsistent leader. Their employees continually walk on eggshells because they never know if something is done perfectly, or if their very best effort will ever be good enough. An inconsistent leader may preach values but proceed to gossip about someone. Consistently excellent leadership behaviors promote a safe work environment.

I can certainly look back over the years and recognize that my own inconsistent behavior made it very difficult for people to be around me, much less for them to be content, happy, creative and productive employees. I’ve also had a number of bosses who were very inconsistent with their behaviors. The mood was always, “do your job, keep your head down and don’t do anything to rock the boat.” On the contrary, consistent behavior that builds trust means remembering the following:

1. Be who you say you are. People want to see you live the values you talk about.

2. Being inconsistent does not necessarily show up in an explosive temperament. Inconsistency can also be demonstrated through passive aggressive behavior.

3. Be open to change. A safe person is not afraid of constructive feedback. Model a willingness to work on your weaknesses. Your team just might follow your example.

4. Be open and transparent. When we are guarded, people suspect we have something to hide. On the other hand, don’t go overboard on sharing personal data in an effort to prove you don’t have anything to hide! Be genuine and discerning.

5. Have fun…lighten up, be consistently joyful.

We demonstrate love by being consistently loving. Louie is learning that when I leave, I’ll be back; when I say let’s go for a walk, I head for the door; and when the babies are around and I move into my Nonna role, he knows to watch over them as well.

Click the image for information on how to order Louie's Leadership Lessons
Click the image for information on how to order Louie’s Leadership Lessons

Step Up And Be A Leader

IMG_0745Previously, I shared that providing excellent leadership for my adopted dog, as well as people, takes time, discipline, and unconditional love. It takes strength and courage to love and lead well. It’s not simply about being nice but rather about letting go of your own agenda and serving another. Love is not a word you hear in the workplace, and I suggested we reflect on how to truly and boldly love others.

As I continue to learn to be a good leader to Louie, one of the toughest principles for me to grasp [WARNING: friends, swallow your food before continuing] was how to be the Alpha Dog. That’s right, my trainer let me know that I was a weak Alpha. And my lack of strong leadership caused confusion for Louie, forcing him into the position of having to step up and lead.

Before Louie and I found each other, I never gave much thought to asserting my role as Alpha Dog. Consequently, my dogs assumed that role and I let them. It didn’t seem to matter because they were small and harmless. And by the time I got home after a long day at work, I was tired of being Alpha, so I let them boss me around. But that approach doesn’t work for Louie and it definitely does not work for people

There is so much that goes into being a good Alpha; being consistent, providing safety, setting appropriate boundaries, giving genuine and abundant praise, and offering necessary correction. Again, all of those things must be rooted in trust and undergirded by love.

When the trainer first met us, Louie behaved very badly and I was at my wits end. The trainer described my body language as defeated. Louie responded to this with fear and confusion. The words that moved me off the dime were, “I’ve seen you do leadership seminars, now you’ve got to do what you do in those seminars. Exude confidence. He needs reassurance that you know what you’re doing.”

Really? For my dog? I had made the common mistake of assuming that he would instinctively know that I’m the boss – simply because I’m the human, I’m larger than he, and I think more “knowledgeable.” The trainer taught me that it is about my level of confidence in where I’m going and what needs to be accomplished. That confidence is in knowing what’s best for Louie, giving him firm direction, and drawing out his very best behavior.

As leaders, our assumptions about others and about situations around us unintentionally cause confusion among our team. We have expectations that are not always clearly communicated, and then when not met, causes disappointment on our part and confusion on the part of others. Ken Blanchard often refers to this as seagull management – meaning a manager who only interacts with employees when a problem arises. This style of leadership involves hasty decisions about things of which they have little understanding, resulting in messy situations for others to clean up.

Being a strong leader is about so much more than claiming an impressive title, wearing expensive suits and appearing important.  It is about:

  • Owning the leadership role we’ve been given;
  • Resisting the urge to react out of our own fears and insecurities;
  • Addressing problems before we lose our cool;
  • And effectively communicating the vision and seeking to understand our team.

Dogs and people need a humble leader not a bossy dictator. I’ve committed to leading with intentionality, clear vision and goals. I encourage you to do the same – whether you’re leading canines or humans.

I am happy to say I have assumed my role as Alpha of the house and consequently, Louie is a much happier pup. I had to wrestle him to ground once or twice to make him understand submission, a method I do NOT recommend for your team. But it is clear that he understands and appreciates my love and leadership. And I provide a safe haven for him by my consistent behavior. We’ll talk about safety and consistency next time.

Louie's alpha pup
Louie and his alpha pup, Evi.

 

Leadership…and Love?

I Love LouieI  recently adopted a dog…a sweet, seemingly docile, hound. Although I love dogs, I had made the decision not to get another one. This was not for the typical reasons like too much work and responsibility, or lack of motivation on my part to provide the dog plenty of exercise. I just could not handle watching another dog I loved die. I had been through that heart wrenching experience enough times.

But then I encountered an abandoned mutt with big brown eyes and a sweet temperament (at least in his cage). I tossed my concerns aside, brought him home and named him Louie DiStasi. I soon discovered that Louie brought a lot of emotional baggage to the relationship. He demonstrated behaviors that deeply concerned me. While acting like an overly protective dog when visitors came to the house, I later learned he was masking something. I immediately engaged a dog trainer and quickly realized I needed training as much as Louie did, if not more so.

I’m not afraid of tough lessons, and I’m always looking for ways to improve my leadership skills.  Every week I read a new blog post or article on how to be a better leader. Spending time with Louie and learning how to lead him has been far more impactful than anything I’ve read. I’m a hands-on learner, and my experience with Louie has been a life changer. Bottom line, Louie needs acceptance, consistency, discipline and above all, unconditional love. It is a need every human being on this earth has, whether we admit it or not. Here are some things I’ve learned:

  • Like people, Louie needs unconditional love. But sometimes his baggage gets in the way. When I chose to adopt him, I chose the whole package – baggage and all. I quickly learned his macho behavior actually hid his fear and insecurity. Many leaders, myself included, hide behind fear and insecurity and try to act confident. I experienced the freedom of letting go of that act many years ago. Louie is slowly learning this, as well, but it will take time. When we are in relationship with others, we must press through and work out any issues. We simply cannot move out of relationship with them because their baggage is inconvenient. And we all bring baggage.
  • Body language is a powerful communicator. It is not enough that I provide Louie with secure shelter, healthy food and affection. These things are important but they don’t necessarily communicate love to him. Like people, he notices tone, body language and facial expressions. He knows that when my voice is firm, I mean business. And he knows how my tone changes when I give him praise. A good leader communicates love, not only with their words but more importantly, with their actions.
  • Consistency is key. Good leaders (and good dog owners) are calm, controlled, safe and consistent. While it may feel like love to let Louie climb on my bed or turn my shoes into his personal chew toys, it is not. Good leaders give clear guidelines, set appropriate boundaries and respect individual personalities.
  • Both dogs and people require patience and kindness.  As the Scripture says, love is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged.  It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance*. As leaders, it’s not enough for our teams to get a paycheck, a nice office, and a few perks here and there. They need to know they are loved; that you care more about them than just the processes, plans and bottom line (But, the bottom line always improves when leaders love their employees!)
  • Genuine love is not for the weak. It takes strength and courage. Some may assert that loving dogs is easier than loving people and perhaps it is. But we are commanded to love one another.  This is not an admonition commonly found in leadership manuals or in business schools, but without it, you will likely fail. Take time this week to reflect on how to truly and boldly love others.
Despite his baggage, I’ve grown to love Louie. And because I’ve invested in him, he’s becoming a better dog. And I’m becoming a better leader! Love is the foundation of our relationships and trust is a building block. Louie knows I love him AND that I’m in charge. Who knew I had to learn to be an Alpha dog! We’ll talk about that next time!
* 1 Corinthians 13

LOU!!!

Click the image for information on how to order Louie's Leadership Lessons
Click the image for information on how to order Louie’s Leadership Lessons

Envy–A Very Deadly Sin

There’s a new boy in the neighborhood, and Louie is not happy. Although Lou loves when a new gal pal moves in, he is not very fond of this little pup, Big Mac.

Lou and Cindy
Louie getting some much needed love from Mac’s mom!

Life was going along just fine for Louie. Everybody loves on him when they see him, and they pay attention when they hear him whine for their attention as we walk. He gladly accepts invitations into other people’s homes, and thoroughly enjoys running around the yard with his buddy, Mick. And then came Mac. Mac is seven pounds of fluffy white and brown hair and super power energy. And everyone thinks he’s adorable…except Lou.

At first, Louie was okay with the idea of a new dog in town. He checked out Mac via the smells he left in his owner’s front yard, and Louie was intrigued. Then Lou saw him from a distance and things seemed fine. But when they met face to face, Lou immediately ran the other way. Mac had too much energy and in your face action. Mac’s mom and I gave them time to warm up to each other but one afternoon I noticed something. Louie was particularly clingy to Mac’s mom, as though he needed reassurance that she still loved him. Then Lou gave Mac a quick snarl as a warning and went off to play with another dog he has known for some time.

Oh the dreadful feeling of envy that slithers almost unnoticeably into our hearts. We’ve all experienced it. It usually creeps in with its pal, comparison, and causes resentment of what we perceive as someone else’s advantage—in Louie’s case it was the serious cuteness of another pup, resulting in lots of attention from everyone.

Louie tolerating MAC
Louie tolerating MAC

I thought about this in regards to the common leadership adage of surround yourself with those who are smarter than you. What is not part of that quote is to be sure and check your level of confidence. Many leaders say they are looking for others who can be a great addition to their teams but then squelch any opportunity for the new person to actually use their skills for fear it may outshine them. Those leaders will find acceptable ways of expressing their resentment by using the big “but” approach—“He may be a good sales person BUT he doesn’t have a clue how to write a decent proposal.” Or sometimes we question someone’s motive because we are actually envious toward them.

I once read a story* of two men, both of whom were seriously ill and occupied the same small hospital room. One man was allowed to sit up in his bed for an hour each afternoon to help drain the fluid from his lungs. His bed was next to the room’s only window. The other man had to spend all his time flat on his back.

The men talked for hours about everything. Each afternoon when the man in the bed by the window could sit up, he would pass the time by describing to his roommate all the things he could see outside the window. The man in the other bed would live for those one-hour periods when his world came alive because his roommate described a park with a lake, on which birds swam and by which children played. Although the other man could not hear any of the sounds, he could see them in his mind’s eye as the gentleman by the window beautifully described all the activity.

That is until envy slithered in: “Why should he have all the pleasure of seeing everything while I never get to see anything?” It wasn’t fair. At first, the man felt ashamed because he enjoyed the man’s friendship and thoughtful descriptions of what was going on outside the window. But as the days passed, his envy eroded into resentment. He began to brood, and he found himself unable to sleep. He should be the one by that window— and that thought controlled his life.

Late one night as he lay staring at the ceiling, the man by the window began to cough. He was choking on the fluid in his lungs. The other man watched in the dimly lit room as the struggling man by the window groped for the button to call for help. Listening from across the room, he never moved, never pushed his own button which would have brought the nurse running. In less than five minutes the coughing and choking stopped, along with the sound of breathing.

Now there was only silence—deadly silence. The following morning the day nurse arrived to bring water for their baths. When she found the lifeless body of the man by the window, she was saddened and called the hospital attendants to take it away–no words, no fuss. As soon as it seemed appropriate, the other man asked if he could be moved next to the window. The nurse was happy to make the switch, and after she was sure he was comfortable, she left him alone. Slowly, painfully, he propped himself up on one elbow to take his first look. Finally, he would have the joy of seeing it all himself. He strained to look out the window beside the bed and found it faced a blank wall.

Envy is indeed a deadly sin and more pervasive in leadership than we think. If we as leaders are not careful, we can allow envy to kill spirits and damage our team’s morale.

As for Louie and Big Mac, I am sure Louie will learn to love Mac—all in due time!

*The Tale Of The Tardy Oxcart – November 20, 1998 by Charles R. Swindoll

 

Lou, Eve, and MAC
Lou, his gal pal Eve, and…MAC

 

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