Life Interrupted

Today was the first day I was able to wrap my arms around Louie and give him a huge bear hug. It was three weeks ago that I had an accident and our lives quickly changed. And in celebrating my ability to hug him and receive an under the neck snuggle from him, I thought it fitting to resume our blog after an unintentionally extended vacation.

December 18, 2016, was filled with great anticipation. It was one week before Christmas, and the DiStasi family was planning to gather at my house to celebrate Christmas. Everything was set; the massive amounts of food, the decorations, gifts, and music. It was to be a celebration to top all the ones we had celebrated so far as a family.

Louie and I took our usual stroll early that morning. Two days before, there had been a late evening ice storm, but this particular morning seemed okay as far as icy pavement was concerned. Still, I was cautious and walked in the grass as much as possible.

An elderly neighbor has a very long driveway, and Louie and I had been taking her daily newspaper to her so she would not have to venture out and lean over to pick it up. As soon as I stepped on the driveway, my feet flew up in the air, and I landed on my left hip. I lost control of Louie, and it took me a few moments to catch my breath. I couldn’t see Louie, and panic was about to set in. His normal reaction when something startles him is to run away. And seeing his mama flying through the air had to have been startling.

I forced myself to turn as far to the left as I could. There Louie sat, close behind my left shoulder. I reached around to draw him close to me. As he tucked his head under my arm, I felt his shaking and heard him whimper. To hear him cry broke my heart, and my tears started to flow uncontrollably. I knew I could not move—and whatever would take place from that moment forward, it would be a long journey. Louie chose to stay by me as the faithful friend that he is.

A neighbor pulled up with his phone in hand, already calling 911, and I called my friend and neighbor Cindy to pick up Louie. I called my daughter, Marisa, and the network of community, family, and friends jumped into action. Everyone’s life was interrupted on December 18, 2016.

After a jarring ambulance ride, surgery to repair a femur that was fractured in two places, a total hip replacement, five days in the hospital, and physical therapy, I was released to Marisa and Matt’s home for respite care and to celebrate Christmas with the two cutest nurses on the face of the earth. Louie had been well taken care of by my wonderful neighbors who had walked him, let him stay in their homes, taken him to daycare to play, and given him more love than he could imagine.

Life interrupted has taught Louie and me a few things:

  • We appreciate life and the little things: Although that seems so cliché, it was the small steps of accomplishment that filled me with joy. Every day, I set new goals to accomplish—goals I never would have dreamed to set before. For instance, I learned to get out of bed, to go to the bathroom, and to take my meds without having to wake my daughter to help me. And to carry a cup of coffee in the morning to enjoy my quiet time. Mea and Evi helped me do things as they watched me improve. Christmas had a deeper meaning this year with sincere thankfulness, love, and joy!
  • You really do know who your friends are: So many people dropped everything to help. It was a terrible strain on Marisa and Matt as they took care of me. So many friends offered to grocery shop, run errands, and stay with me when I finally came home. My sisters and cousin packed their clothes and took turns staying overnight. My brothers were calling, visiting, and bringing food. The neighbors who took care of Louie were such Godsends. Many people could not help because of logistics, but they checked in and prayed.
  • You have to move out of your comfort zone: This was a tough one for Louie and me. I had to let people help me. What a humbling position to be in; I was helpless. I have never stayed in a hospital other than to give birth. I don’t take any medicines, and I have never fractured a single bone. The outpouring of love and encouragement has been overwhelming. Louie had to be comfortable with people coming and going in and out of our home and driving him to and from daycare. But we both pressed on through pain, frustration, fear, and being uncomfortable. It was difficult, but I believe we made it past the hardest part of this process. There’s still much more healing to take place and there will always be a next move out of our comfort zone. I have no doubt we’ll press through that too.
  • Some things just do not matter: The superficiality of the holidays clashed with the richness of genuine, loving relationships. There can be no comparison of the things that are bought with the things that are sought, caught, and taught. The characteristics of love, joy, and peace are important for us to live and pass on to others. It takes effort, but it is worth the time and effort. I am a better person because of the love, joy, and peace that others shared with me this season.

2017 is going to be a great year of love and strength. Louie is a better dog because he chose faithfulness over running away. He trusted and allowed others into his world to help us! We are closer because of these last few weeks. Thank you to so many for being in my life and for your prayers and support!

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Expectations vs. Expectancy

Louie, my adopted pup, and I were walking on a beautiful fall day when we saw one of his pug buddies—or so we thought. His friend Sammy is a tan and black pug with a unique characteristic: his tongue protrudes ever so slightly. I recognized that the person walking him was not his owner. That’s not unusual since many of us in the community need others to walk our dogs on occasion. Louie was excited to see his buddy and could hardly wait to romp and play.

As we approached, I asked if the dog was Sammy, because he had the same markings and same characteristic of a slightly protruding tongue. The person walking him said no. But Louie quickly ran up to the Sammy look-alike; it did not take him long to realize this was not his buddy, and then he became indignant as if he was mad at the pug for not being Sammy.

We quickly said our good-byes while Louie kicked up his feet and snarled just to make sure the dog understood he was not even close to being Sammy.

I realized Louie’s expectations for playing with his friend were unmet, and disappointment had set in quickly. Based on all appearances, Louie was expecting to have fun and play, but that expectation was not to be filled that day.

This time of year, the majority of us have many expectations that, when unmet for whatever reason, will disappoint us. People have a hard time moving on from such setbacks. I think these disappointments occur because we’ve set ourselves up for failure when we box up our expectations in the hopes that they will be fulfilled.

Instead, what if we had a spirit of expectancy? You may wonder what the difference is between having expectations and having a spirit of expectancy. A spirit of expectancy is what very young children usually possess. They have the mindset that something wonderful is about to happen, but with no expectation of specifics. While they may wish for something on their Christmas list, it is their heart of expectancy that is truly magical. It is the hopefulness of something wonderful. For me, that may entail time with my family, but without expectation that the time meets any specific criteria—it is simply time together.

Another example occurred on the holiest of nights. For centuries, people expected the Messiah to come amongst their midst. In this expectation, they envisioned a king, surrounded by throngs of noble men and women and trumpets blaring. Because of these expectations they missed the wonder of all that took place on that quiet, serene night when the stars were brightly shining.

Yet only those with a spirit of expectancy, whose hearts were open to the wonder of what only the Creator of the universe could put into action, witnessed the birth of the King in a simple, lowly manger.

Expectations for particular things and events always run the risk of disappointing us, since many times, events and what others do are out of our control. As we wind down our year, rather than focusing on the disappointments of unmet expectations, let’s look forward with a heart of expectancy and see if that doesn’t lighten our spirits with the hope that something wonderful is about to happen.

While Louie experienced disappointment by not having his expectations met with the look-alike Sammy, it did not dampen his spirit of expectancy. He still walks out of our home with the hope that something wonderful is about to happen. Something as simple as seeing a dear neighbor who pats him on the head or gives him belly rubs lends to his heart of wonder.

 

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Has Leadership Gone to the Dogs?

lou-as-prezThe subject line might offend Louie. In fact, it might offend you as well. But let’s face it—in the heat of the recent political battle, many of us are shaking our heads while trying to understand what just happened. One thing I do know is that disrespect for people with differing opinions is at an all-time high.

The rude rhetoric on all sides of the political spectrum gave me pause and made me think of Louie and some of his not-so-friendly foes. I am convinced that if people were to act the way our pets do, we would all get along better. For example, sometimes Louie might see a dog that challenges him. The two will snarl and growl and perhaps even bark at each other. However, the minute we walk side by side with the dog and its owner, they seem to get along. There is something about being intentional and walking alongside someone you have a disagreement with.

Louie has done this with my niece’s dog, Buddy. Those two little boys will scrunch their noses, curl their lips, show their teeth, stand their hair up, and bark in such a high pitch that people turn their heads with a look of concern. Andrea laughs, assuring everyone in sight that the dogs are actually cousins and are fine with each other. It sure doesn’t seem like it when they are img_4896facing one another. However, as soon as we start walking, they are fine together.

Louie also behaves this way with rambunctious Claire, his other cousin Noli, his neighbor Snickers, and a new boxer in the community named Socks. What is it about being side by side with their supposed nemesis? I think there are several things:

  • It is less threatening.
  • They are on equal ground.
  • They see the same vision of what lies ahead.
  • They walk with the same pace.
  • It is easier to carry the other’s burden. (Okay, this one relates to humans, not Louie.)

What if some of our leaders were intentional about walking side by side instead of duking it out? I am reminded of an article I wrote in 2005 when I worked with Ken Blanchard titled “Leading with Your Heart Takes Humility.” Although it was written over eleven years ago, the premise holds true today: Humility is the key to excelling in leadership. And servant leaders are humble enough to walk beside someone they disagree with.

I won’t share the full article here (you can find it at this link), but here are some of the highlights:

  • Something is glaringly missing from leadership today. Sadly, many leadership programs are missing just one key ingredient: the heart. Not just the heart of the issue or the heart of the matter—the heart of the people.
  • What gets in your way? What truly is your motive for being a leader or wanting to lead others? Is it for selfish gain or to better others?
  • Many times, our ego gets in the way and what bubbles up out of our hearts are things like pride, selfishness, and even fear.
  • How can you push past what holds you back? In getting past the barriers, is the challenge as a leader to balance confidence with humility to fight ego issues? Ken Blanchard often uses the quote, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself. It’s thinking of yourself less.” Every time you make a leadership decision, are you thinking of yourself or others?
  • Confidence does not come from being in a dominant position and leading by intimidation. Doing this will cause you to lose respect from others, and any talk about values or integrity will be ignored. Humility, however, is not something they teach us in business schools. It is a character trait that is honed over time with truth and love.

img_4750Our businesses, organizations, and families are hungry for leadership coupled with humility. It takes commitment to make the necessary changes to have a healthy culture and humble leaders.

Perhaps our world could learn a lesson from Louie about being intentional and walking side by side with others rather than snarling at them. While Louie doesn’t understand humility, his actions speak louder than his woof. He is more than willing to walk alongside others. As I watch his actions, I am convinced that we humans have much to learn from our dogs.

 

 

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You Can’t Make Me Something I Don’t Want to Be!

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Louie was not having it. He planted all four paws on the floor and would not move an inch. His face let me know he was not pleased. At all.

“Louie,” I said sternly as I tried to squeeze his 40 pounds of muscle where it didn’t want to go. “This is only for two hours, if that. Surely you can oblige me.”

I sat back and stared at him, exasperated. For the last few Halloweens, I’ve donned a Cruella de Vil look and spent the evening with my grandchildren. This year I thought it would be fun to take Louie along in a Dalmatian outfit. Except there were no Dalmatian costumes for dogs. The closest thing I could find was a child’s costume for a spotted cow.

I had imagined how it would turn out. Louie might not share my enthusiasm for this creative costume. But he’d forget all about it when he set eyes on my granddaughters, Evi and Mea. He’d jump out of the car and happily trot with them along the street, greeting other children, trying to get a peek into their candy loot. I just knew Louie would have more fun than he could imagine if he could just push through wearing a silly cow outfit and look as much like a Dalmatian as he could.

I also imagined it would make a great blog lesson: all about pressing through uncomfortable situations to enjoy the outcome. Sounds good, right?

BEING SOMEONE WE’RE NOT

cruella-and-the-girls-oh-and-louBut none of that happened. Yes, Lou was happy to see Evi and Mea. He did enjoy it when other children came up to love on him. But he hated his costume and was mad at me the entire time. He wouldn’t even pose for a picture, and believe me, that’s not like him.

I finally took the costume off and let him be Louie.

Too often we find ourselves being something we don’t want to be. Maybe it’s of our own doing — because we think we need to fit in, and it requires being someone “different.” But often it’s because someone else expects us to be different than what we are.

Maybe it’s a negative thing: a boss requires us to be something based on their own insecurities. Or maybe it’s positive: a leader sees potential in us that we don’t see or can even imagine, and they want to coach us to be better.

No matter the reason, we resist because it is uncomfortable to be something we are not. We don’t want to don a costume and fake it.

CAN’T MAKE ANYONE CHANGE

It’s tough to balance being authentic and at the same time develop beyond mediocrity toward excellence. It can feel like donning a facade and “faking it till we make it.” What should leaders do to help folks grow?

If you’re in a position of leadership, you can suggest someone continue to develop. You can provide tools, mentoring, and ongoing training. But you can’t make them be something they don’t want to be. Each person is responsible for taking that first step to wanting to make significant changes in their lives.

Still, there are ways to influence those in whom you see potential. For example:

  • Watch to see whether the person shows an eagerness to learn and grow, i.e., reading books and asking for help.
  • Ask them where do they see themselves going? What is their end goal?
  • Share with them what potential you see in them.
  • Be sure your expectations align with their skillset and desires.
  • If their end goal and desires outweigh their skillset, place them on a realistic development plan and be clear about expectations.

GREATER THAN THEY IMAGINE

When Louie and I arrived back home, he was one tired pup. He slinked upstairs to his little bed to lay down. His expression told me he was still traumatized by the costume. But as I knelt down to give him a kiss, I looked into his eyes and saw a little spark.

It was a look that said, “If you are trying to make me be something different than who I am, at least make me a lion!”

And with that, he tucked his head into the fold of his front paw and fell fast asleep. No doubt, that evening he dreamt of being a lion.

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Louie the lion…hear me roar!

 

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Unclaimed. Unloved. Unwavering

final-book-picRecently, I overheard my oldest granddaughter, Evi, share our dog Louie’s story with her younger sister, Mea. Though you may have heard this “tail” a time or two before, I thought you would enjoy this rendition:

“A long time ago, there was a little dog who was all alone in the woods. He was scared and afraid and felt very, very alone. It was nighttime and then daylight and then nighttime, again and again. Once, he saw another little animal and thought, ‘Oh, that looks like someone who could be my friend.’ But the animal was a mean cat. It hissed and clawed at the poor little dog, scratching his ear till it started to bleed. ‘My,’ said the pup. ‘I guess it doesn’t want to be my friend.’ The little dog still has a mark on his ear.

“The poor little dog was sad, but he kept on going because he knew somewhere, someone would love him. He was so tired that he couldn’t keep his head up. He came to a road and a woman who was driving by saw him and picked him up. She took him to a place filled with lots of people and other dogs. The people called and called and called all sorts of places to find out if anyone owned the dog. They put up signs and waited and waited, but no one came to see the little dog. He still felt all alone.

“One morning, the people put the little dog in a van and drove him far, far away. They took him to an adopt-a-pet store. There, he saw a nice lady who took him home. He was scared at first, but then the lady opened the door to her home, and two little girls were waiting for him. They hugged him and kissed his head and called him their brother. Louie finally found a place he called home and two sisters who loved him very much.”

Mea’s mouth dropped open as she squealed, “Lou-weeeeee?”

“Yep, that’s Louie’s story,” Evi proudly announced.

I smiled as I heard the tale so poignantly shared. Once again, Louie’s story tugged at my heart as I thought about our little dog wandering the streets and wooded areas, not knowing where he lou-and-the-girls-9-16was or where he should go. It is even sadder to think that despite the shelter’s efforts to find his family, no one came to take him home. Louie was unclaimed and unloved—a very sad state, indeed.

Since he first came to live in my home, there has been no question that he is loved. I’ve gladly claimed him as my little pal, and he truly is a brother to Evi and Mea. He knows where home is. Every time we take a walk, he’ll look up at me with those big, brown eyes, and I’ll ask, “Do you want to go home, Lou?” With a spring in his step and dogged determination, he’ll prance all the way home with little guidance from me. I have been unwavering in working through life’s tough spots to build a relationship of trust, and it has paid off in huge dividends of joy for Louie and me as well as for Evi, Mea, and many other people whom Louie has come to know and love.

Being unclaimed and unloved is not limited to adopted pups. Many people in our lives have suffered through this emotional pain. Many times, these people are close friends, teammates, bosses, or fellow board members. We never know who they are because, in today’s shallow society, we don’t take the time to learn about people’s lives. We often wonder what is wrong with individuals who act out, but in many cases, these people may be unclaimed and unloved and are looking for others they can trust. Don’t be like the cat in Louie’s tale and lash out at them.

Before passing judgment on others, take the time to learn their stories. People are fascinating, and everyone has a unique history. Once you learn about someone and take the time to get to know them, you’ll see them blossom and grow. Learning about others is imperative to help our team build trust and learn to walk in their strengths. Be the leader who is unwavering in working through tough spots to build a relationship of trust. This effort will pay off in huge dividends of joy and—believe it or not—productivity.

If you are reading this blog, I want you to know you are not unclaimed or unloved, no matter what has happened to you in your past. God is unwavering in his love for us. It is up to us to joyfully accept and receive such love.

As for Louie—he has taught me so much about love and determination. I am never without a lesson from this little chap. He has also opened my eyes to that fact that my sweet Evi is carrying on the Nonna tradition of being the “best story maker” ever. Together, she and I gave you a tiny glimpse into what is to come for Louie’s Leadership Lessons. Stay tuned for more news on Louie’s future in our upcoming blogs.

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Don’t Get Caught Up In The Cat Fight, Lou!

Louie and I went for an early morning walk. I was eager to get in some exercise ahead of a busy client day. Just as we crossed the street in front of a wooded area, I heard a screeching sound, as though two cats were fighting. Without hesitation, Lou ran as fast as he could in the opposite direction. He didn’t look around. He didn’t stop. He just took off jethrorunning. Once Lou was at the end of the leash, his body stopped, but his legs kept going. I had to laugh because he reminded me of The Jetsons with Jethro, the dog, on the treadmill.

Only when he felt we were at a safe distance did he turn to look back with a worried look on his face. He would have nothing to do with cats, much less getting in the middle of their fight. As we walked at our usual clipped pace, I thought, “Louie is a very smart dog.” Oh, if only we humans could learn to run as fast as we can when others try to pull us into arguments.

Conflict certainly happens with our friends or families, but it is very disruptive when it happens with our teams. It creates dissension and stagnates creativity and productivity, not to mention what it does to the cultural health of an organization.

We would love to offer our assistance when two coworkers are fighting so that we can feel good about helping, yet it is not always that simple or straightforward. Sometimes, it is best to run in the other direction, just as Louie does.

There are other times, though, we may be able to offer help. In my coaching practice, I often listen to employees or leaders vent about conflict or upsetting situations. Executive coaching may appear to be different from dealing with coworkers, but I have found the following process extremely helpful:

  • Venting – People need a place to vent. Sometimes, being able to verbally process helps us let off some steam and get a clearer perspective.
  • Listening – Lend an empathetic ear and listen to the person. Let them know you care about their situation yet you care more about the relationship.
  • Reframing – Many times when someone is upset about something, he or she may not always see a different perspective of the situation. You could help that person by asking questions such as, what if the other person were challenging you with a different intent than what you assume? What is your responsibility in the situation? Could it be that the other person did not intend to upset you? Reframe the situation and help them to see a different perspective.
  • Envisioning – Envisioning will help them to see what it would look like if they were sitting across the table from the person they are in conflict with, and talking one-on-one. This is very helpful for the person to visualize a tough conversation before he or she actually does. Again, it gives them an entirely different perspective.

Sometimes Louie’s method is actually the best. There are many times when it is not worth getting in the middle of two people who are fighting. No matter what you try to do to help, you might find that it will backfire on you.

Before you take that step in helping people resolve a conflict, you need to make sure that they are willing to work at it and to understand that the end goal is to mend the relationship. Some people have no intentions of reconciling, and it makes it tough to work with them. The catfight will revolve around who was right and who was wrong—and there will be no resolution to the conflict.

Louie does the first two steps very well. He lets me talk things out and listens intently, with those big, brown, soulful eyes. Then with a sweet content look on his face, he yawns and moves on. That’s a signal to me it’s time to get over whatever it was that upset me and to deal with the situation. Thanks, Lou, for such wisdom!

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He’s Back With A Unique Leadership Model

We hope you enjoyed your summer. In celebration of the 3rd anniversary of Louie’s adoption, we decided to to do an extended blog, introducing our LOUIE leadership model.

Our story began three years ago in the rolling hills of Boyd County, Kentucky—a place I never knew existed. It’s your typical love story: boy meets girl, boy woos girl with his charming ways and big brown eyes, girl is swept off her feet, and they fall in love and live happily ever after. Except in this story, the boy is an adopted puppy named Louie.

Although I have a tremendous amount of leadership experience, I never truly understood leadership until I met this little guy.

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Our blog, and my soon-to-be-released third book, Louie’s Leadership Lessons, are compilations of time-tested leadership models, heart-warming stories of courage and love, and techniques for overcoming common issues such as pride, fear, and doubt—all illustrated by eye-opening experiences with my rescue dog. The time I spent with him and his trainer was life changing.

This extended blog is the introduction to our new book and contains nuggets of wisdom I’ve learned over the decades about leadership and the gift of relationships with a fresh perspective renewed by Louie’s point of view.

I have distilled all Louie has taught me into a leadership model that is easy to remember and easy to follow. When you have a leadership dilemma, ask yourself, “What would Louie do?” The answer is in his name: LOUIE.

Love

Louie was either lost or abandoned in Kentucky and made his way to Cincinnati, where I live, through a number of shelters. Although I love dogs, I had decided not to get another one for many reasons—that is, until I just happened to stop by PetSmart while they were conducting an adopt-a-pet weekend and encountered this abandoned mutt with big brown. I tossed my concerns aside, brought him home, and named him Louie DiStasi. I soon discovered that Louie had brought a lot of emotional baggage to the relationship. He demonstrated behaviors that deeply concerned me, and I engaged a dog trainer to help address them. I 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. But working with Louie was challenging. The bottom line was that Louie needed acceptance, consistency, discipline, and—above all—unconditional love. I wasn’t sure I was equipped to provide all that.

When I first met Louie, he was very sweet and subdued in his crate. Several hours after we arrived home, he became much more active. I loved Louie when he was a good little dog, but I didn’t love him so much when he started to act out and behaved badly when people came to the door, etc. It was a struggle, and I had to make a choice to love him. I decided to commit to loving this abandoned pup, in spite of his baggage.

Employees can be like Louie. They bring a lot of baggage to the job and may be hard to love at times. One of the most critical needs for any human being is the need to feel loved. All of us have this innate desire, yet it is one of the most difficult to fulfill. C. S. Lewis said it best:

“To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.”

Love is not merely a warm fuzzy feeling; love in action is the aspect that is important in leadership. When I mention the word “love” in the workplace, I receive a tremendous amount of pushback. People say, “Don’t bring it up; you’ll have HR issues.” I question whether people understand what love really means.

While employees can be hard to love at times (maybe most of the time), it is still your choice to love or be indifferent toward them. Let’s look at the characteristics of leaders who love:

  • They are patient.
  • They are kind.
  • They honor other people.
  • They are honest.
  • They are protective.
  • They are trustworthy.
  • They are always hopeful.
  • They persevere through difficult situations.
  • They are other seeking and other serving.
  • They manage their emotions well.

Of course, there are also things that they are not:

  • They aren’t envious.
  • They aren’t boastful.
  • They aren’t prideful.
  • They don’t keep records of wrongs.

The characteristics of loving leaders are those that leaders should display when they are working with their people—baggage and all. That’s what love in action looks like.

Servant leaders are those who display the characteristics above. They are humble enough to serve and strong enough to lead.

Objectives and Goals

The next thing I learned in the course of training Louie was that, as a leader, I needed clear objectives and plans for how to achieve them. This is true with our teams at work, as well. Objectives must be clear and specific. They have to be trackable. They have to be relevant. They have to be attainable and motivating.

I engaged a trainer who taught me that my first goal in this journey with Louie was to establish my role as leader. Yep—I actually had to learn how to be Louie’s alpha. I wrongly assumed he would know I was in charge because I’m bigger than him, I own the house, I pay for the meals. Assuming is a mistake many leaders make. Throughout our blog, you’ll read the importance of objectives and goals with each lesson I learned through Louie.

Understanding

Another lesson I learned was to truly understand that Louie had “stuff” in his background. Fear and anxiety issues were at the top of the list. These may have come from abandonment or abuse—it’s hard to say. But it is not unlike everyone we meet, whether he or she is on our team, or just a person whose path we crossed in the grocery store. Every human being needs to feel loved and valued. It is our innermost need, and it was this little dog’s need as well. He had never had a sense of being valued in his life, and he needed to know that someone cared about him. I had to understand Louie’s struggles to love him, which would enable me to set clear objectives and goals for our journey together. I needed to understand Louie’s issues. It wasn’t easy to get past some of them. They were real and profound.

As leaders, we need to take the time to understand our people. We need to realize that there’s always something about a person’s circumstances that we don’t know, and before we judge people, we need to try to understand them.

When you run into an issue with someone and your first inclination is to become upset, try the PAWS method to help you analyze the situation before doing something you may regret:

  1. Pause…breathe! Allow oxygen to get to your brain.
  2. Ask the person questions: “What’s going on?” “Can you tell me more?” “Help me understand.” “Is everything OK?” Ask yourself questions: “Why does this aggravate me?”
  3. Use wisdom. Choose your words wisely. I would much rather have people feel uncomfortable waiting for me to find the right words than I ever would with words that could be hurtful.
  4. Seek to understand. Once you pause, ask questions, and choose your words wisely, you will naturally seek to understand. Remember, everyone has “stuff” in his or her backgrounds. And so do you!

As leaders, we need to make an effort to understand. Take time to understand your people and avoid making assumptions. Throughout this blog, there are many lessons relating to how I learned to understand Louie, who could not verbally communicate with me. These lessons will help you understand how others communicate and process ideas differently than you do—and that’s OK.

Investment

I then learned to invest my time and talent into developing Louie. We should ask ourselves, “How much time do we invest in our teams? Our families? Our friends?” Take the time to get to know people and invest in them.

1st-nightThis picture breaks my heart. This is Louie the first night he came home with me. He curled up in the corner, scared and alone. I put a pillow next to him to provide some comfort. Louie now sleeps in a very open bed in my bedroom because he feels safe with me, and I with him. I chose to invest a tremendous amount of time in Louie so that he could learn to trust and love me. It took time. Everything takes time. You cannot go wrong by investing your time getting to know people. Take them out to lunch. Ask them questions. This point relates back to understanding. It links to feeling valued, and it relates to feeling loved. Take time to gather information. You never know what you can uncover when you give your time.

There are many suggestions for, and examples of, investing in others throughout our blog. Get to know people, spend time with them, share your talents and your skill set; put effort into your relationships with people because you want to give without receiving anything in return. I can guarantee that if you are a leader, and you do this, your team will be more productive, creative, and effective. It is the foundation for a healthy culture. Invest your time.

Empowerment

The last step in my leadership training with Louie was to empower him. Empowering your team is essential, but it’s not simply letting people do whatever they want to do. Empowering is taking the time to love them and establishing clear objectives and goals. It is understanding them, and investing in them. Once you do these things, your people will be empowered to use their gifts and talents to do their jobs; and in doing so, you empower them to be the people God created them to be—not who you think they should be. They will be loved and valued.

Louie is an entirely different dog today because I love him. I took the time to set up a development plan and was clear about objectives and goals for him to be a good, healthy dog and for us to enjoy a relationship together. I had to understand his needs. I had to understand his background. I had to figure out what was going on with him. I invested time, my skill set, and other people’s skill sets to help develop him. He is empowered to be a fun-loving, free little dog.

My work with Louie is not unlike leading our teams. Transformation occurs when we apply the LOUIE leadership model: Love, Objectives, Understanding, Investment, and Empowerment, as well as the PAWS model: Pause, Ask, Wisdom, and Seek. Throughout Louie’s Leadership Lessons, you will see more examples of these two models wrapped in stories of love, struggles, and immense joy.

While it brings me great pleasure to know that Louie is a transformed dog, I am the one who has been profoundly changed into a better leader because of the lessons I’ve learned from my experiences with him. We look forward to continuing our journey with you through our blog.

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Louie, Your Reputation Precedes You

IMG_3098If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know Louie has a habit of whining when he sees his pals. You can hear him all the way down the street. People will turn and wait as Louie’s whines get louder and his tail wags faster. He’ll run towards the person or one of his furry friends. He excitedly greets them and then BOOM! He’s on to the next friend.

People know he’s going to do that to them. They watch him run and hear his excitement and after a few doggie sniffs he quickly moves on. My neighbors fully expect him to behave this way because they’ve witnessed this so many times. And now it’s the talk of the neighborhood…how snooty little Louie DiStasi can be.

I make excuses and justify his behavior by saying things like, “He’s very focused on his walk,” or “Don’t take it personal, he’s anxious to keep moving.” It is obvious his reputation clearly precedes him as we walk through the neighborhood.

This behavior has me ponder the importance of our reputations. It is much harder to build a reputation than to destroy it. Building a good reputation requires patience, solid values, intentionality and time. Destroying a good reputation only requires a single moment’s mistake. To build a good reputation, be a person who is worthy of one. Demonstrate the characteristics you want others to associate with you.

I had the honor and pleasure to work with Ken Blanchard in early 2000. During a Lead Like Jesus workshop in 2001, he shared a memorable exercise that left an indelible imprint on my mind and heart.

Ken told a story about Swedish chemist Alfred Bernhard Nobel, who invented dynamite in 1866 and became rich. Nobel was as interested in drama and poetry as he was in chemistry and physics, but it was in the sciences that he made his fame, and by the time of his death he held more than 350 patents and controlled factories and labs in 20 countries.

When Alfred Nobel’s brother died a newspaper mistakenly published an obituary of Alfred that emphasized the fact that he had invented things that blew up and killed people. Nobel, not wanting to be remembered in that way, pledged his wealth toward the betterment of humanity. In his will he directed the establishment of a foundation to award annual prizes for achievement in chemistry, physics, literature, and efforts toward international peace, which is known as the Nobel Prize. This award is considered one of the most prestigious awards in the world and includes a cash prize of nearly one million dollars.

Ken asked,What do you want your obituary to say about you?” He had the participants write out their thoughts. And then he asked, “What do you have to do today to be the person you want to be remembered as?”

That exercise had a profound effect on me then and still does today. I don’t want to be gone and people have to drum up something about me being a compassionate and deeply caring person. I commit to living out those characteristics today.

I encourage you to do the exercise Ken has had so many people around the world engage in doing: write your own obituary. Take time to figure out how you want to be remembered and then commit to being that person today!

As for Louie, it may be too late. It seems his reputation precedes him and not in a good way. We’ll have to continue to work on his relational skills and how he engages with others. Stay tuned!

**Louie and I hope you and your family will join us in remembering the countless men and women who have fought for our country. Give thanks for those who have given their lives and always thank a veteran and those currently serving!**

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What A Big Mouth You Have, Louie!

13047878_630636390418399_5224341423472476065_oWe were enjoying an early morning walk when we came upon two dogs we’ve never met before. One of them is a twin of Louie. She is a Corgi-Beagle mix, and she even has the same facial markings as Louie. She is a bit smaller than Louie, and her name is Peanut.

There was a noticeable difference, however, in the size of their mouths. Like her name, she was a peanut, and her mouth was tiny compared to Louie’s very big mouth. Louie’s mouth can do many things: bark, growl, show his teeth, eat, and mouth to pull and play. Louie provides “love taps” by poking his mouth against your hand when he is excited to see you. His mouth is conveniently attached to his nose which he uses to poke and prod. They work together to borough in the ground and pull lumps of grass to get to a mole.

Although Louie’s large mouth is actually harmless, he could do a lot of damage with it. This is not unlike ourselves. Our mouths, specifically our tongues, may seem harmless, but oh the damage they can do and usually, unnecessarily.

I love what the Bible teaches us about the tongue. “A bit in the mouth of a horse controls the whole horse. A small rudder on a huge ship in the hands of a skilled captain sets a course in the face of the strongest winds. A word out of your mouth may seem of no account, but it can accomplish nearly anything—or destroy it! It only takes a spark, remember, to set off a forest fire. A careless or wrongly placed word out of your mouth can do that. By our speech we can ruin the world, turn harmony to chaos, throw mud on a reputation, send the whole world up in smoke and go up in smoke with it…” And “You can tame a tiger, but you can’t tame a tongue—it’s never been done.”

We have the power to use our words to give life or to bring death to our relationships. Hurtful words can be used in slander, gossip, arguing, criticizing, complaining, distasteful language, boasting, and lying. And the damage can be irreparable. As we read that list, we shake our heads for we clearly know others who do these things. Yet, there’s a small voice within us that whispers, “Could this be me?”

I believe we are all guilty of some or all of these things. For the sake of brevity, let’s focus on the first two: gossip and slander. By definition, gossip is sharing personal or sensational facts about others; sharing private information with those who are not part of the problem or solution. Slander is using words, tonal patterns or facial expressions to deliberately damage someone else’s reputation with information that does not need to be shared.

We all do this either subtly or with as much gusto as possible, and perhaps we are not aware of the damage we are doing. I am most grieved by those who teach and preach against gossip and yet do so under the guise of caring for the person they are talking about, or worse, having the need to play the victim role and share how unfair someone treated them.

It takes intentionality to not step foot on the slippery slope of gossip and slander. It is not easy, but I am committing to these steps, thanks to Louie’s inspiration:

Look Ma, I'm Growing!PAWS

  1. PAUSE: There is power in the pause. When we pause before speaking, we gain time to process our thoughts. I’d rather make people uncomfortable with my pause than with my words. I’ve never regretted my pauses, but too many times, I have regretted my words.
  1. ASK: Ask yourself these things: What’s going on with me? Why do I have this need to share this? Would I want this person sharing information about me? Would I share this if the other person were in front of me? Reflect on your answers before you speak.
  1. WISDOM: Choose your words wisely. When we speak from a place of wisdom, people are more inclined to listen. Carefully consider the words you are about to say. If they are not life-giving, do not say them. Nothing good comes from useless, mindless words.
  1.  STOP AND SEEK TO UNDERSTAND: Stop gossiping for one day. When we want to lose weight, we log our food to keep track of what we are putting into our bodies. Take a day this week to log how many times you talk about someone else. That may make you more aware of how easily gossip has seeped into your life. Then ask a friend to hold you accountable when you are together, and commit to not talking about others. Seek to understand the other person before casting judgement.

Through my relationship with Louie, I have learned a tremendous amount about my relationships with humans. With the size of his mouth, he could take a chunk out of someone, but he clearly chooses not to (up to this point). In that same way, I want nothing to stand in my way with those who are in my life, even those with whom I interact for a short time. I am going to stamp out gossip and slander in my life using the PAWS method. I hope you will join me.

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Louie and I Have Something In Common: We’re Both Introverts!

IMG_3409Recently I was thinking of getting another dog. Louie is home alone so often, and I worry he gets lonely when I’m not around. He gets plenty of exercise thanks to Sully and his mom, but he’s a pack animal, and I don’t think I’m enough “pack” for him.

But then I remember my first doggie duo. My daughter Marisa and I were convinced that Buffy, the first dog we owned together, was lonely and needed a buddy. So we brought a very energetic Bichon puppy named Bree home when Buffy was 3-years-old…she was Buffy’s worst nightmare.

Then after Buffy died, we adopted Cece. Cece wanted me all to herself, which was not going to happen as long as Bree was around. After they passed within three years of each other, I took a break from any more doggie drama. And now there’s Louie!

But I noticed something interesting about Louie. He loves his buddies and will whine to go out to play, but when he’s done, he comes home and quietly goes to his man cave. He has a spot in my bedroom and a crate on the lower level of my home and he prefers that no one invade his privacy. After observing his behavior over the last two plus years, it is clear he loves to be alone. Even when I’m home, he is not under my feet. He will go into his crate while I am working or go to his favorite spot to look out the window.

Perhaps this is a learned behavior after living with me since 2013. I love to be alone. I enjoy the quietness of my home, and I reenergize by spending time alone. I plan for plenty of white space on my calendar for that purpose. I guard that time because it is precious to me. I would never be able to pour into people as I do if I did not have plenty of time alone.

The reactions I receive when I tell people I’m an introvert ranges from utter disbelief to acknowledgement that they catch a glimpse of introversion occasionally. The audiences I speak to are usually the ones who display disbelief because their idea of an introvert is not someone who is comfortable giving speeches. I learned many years ago from my friend, Lynne Ruhl, the primary difference between an introvert and an extrovert. She asked one simple question: You’ve been around people all day at work or at a social event. Upon arriving home you receive a call from a friend who invites you to a party. Would you turn around and head out to the party or politely decline to stay home? I didn’t hesitate…stay home!

She explained that it doesn’t mean I am shy or socially awkward or even afraid of public speaking. It simply means I recharge by being alone.

The terms extrovert and introvert refer to the ways people use their energy. These words have psychological meaning that is different from the way they are used in everyday language. Everyone spends some time extroverting and some time introverting. Don’t confuse introversion with shyness or reclusiveness. They are not related and I am far from shy.

And things get really tricky when you throw in a new term ambivert, a word used to describe someone who exhibits qualities of both introversion and extroversion. Stop it! I’m an introvert who functions quite well in an extroverted world, and I love my time alone.

Good leaders understand that people have differing ways of directing their energies. Not everyone will respond the same way even in the same situations. Have your extroverted employees that have WOO as a strength (winning others over) go to the social networking events. Be aware of what energizes and what drains all your employees.

I sometimes wonder if the superficiality of our culture today, thanks to social media, hasn’t made me more keenly aware of being introverted. As someone who is very relational, my connection with others is key to my well-being. Yet, I still prefer time alone rather than engage in any insincere or phony relationship. And now I have an introverted dog that lives with me, and I’m thankful we are so compatible. He makes coming home even more of a welcome reprieve.

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