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

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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Courage Often Masks Fear And Pride

Dreamin'If you’ve read this blog since the beginning you know the issues I’ve had with Louie, my adopted pup, and how fearful he can be. I’ve learned many valuable lessons from our trainer, Zig, but one in particular continues to make an impact on us. Zig shared that Louie puts on an act of bravado by growling and barking because he’s masking how fearful he actually is. “You don’t want him to act out in fear because that can be very dangerous,” said Zig. “You can never be sure what a fearful dog might do.”

I recently reflected on this wisdom Zig offered more than two years ago. After an intense amount of work on building Louie’s trust in me and in others, his fear has all but subsided (except for a chance confrontation with a cat or someone new at my door). Occasionally, I see a fearful reaction arise and in a second, if he can’t run (which is his first choice), he turns into a fierce dog. But just as quickly, with one command from me, he leaves it and moves on.

What is it about fear that causes such strong reactions? Sometimes, we are afraid of something and in a second, we make a rash decision to lash out or run. Sometimes sheer determination can look like courage when in reality, we are aggressively masking our fear.

Police officers, firefighters, and other emergency personnel know what it’s like to make split second decisions that override their fears. Their training has prepared them to act in the best interests of others despite how they feel inside because lives are at stake.

But what about the times when fear drives us to make a split second decision that is not in the best interests of us or others? Many times fear and pride go hand in hand and it becomes a vicious cycle. Fear of losing jobs, relationships, social status, leadership, or influence can drive us to make ourselves look better on the outside and attempt to make others smaller by comparison.

I thought about this crazy cycle as I watched the Bengals loss of the playoff game. Was it the fumble or the two plays at the end, or the penalty flags thrown? Or was it the vicious cycle of fear and pride?

I’m not a football strategist and talking football is a far stretch from dealing with little Louie and his fears, but everyone in leadership can learn lessons about dealing with fear and pride. Fear itself isn’t necessarily wrong – it’s a sign that we could be in danger and need to take the necessary physical or emotional precautions. And certainly we can take pride in a job well done. But when fear is unfounded and pride is rooted in self-centeredness, the perfect storm develops and the vicious cycle begins. Sadly, the consequences can have an ongoing ripple effect as we witnessed during the playoff game.

We need to choose our mode of operation before we find ourselves in situations where we might become fearful and reactionary. Firefighters and Police Officers are well trained prior to facing the dangers of their jobs. We would all do well to spend a little time assessing our fears, examining the issues that could cause us to operate out of self-centered pride, and identifying steps we can take to eliminate a knee-jerk reaction. Though I still have a long way to go, I’ve learned to stop for a moment before responding because that brief moment might prevent a negative reaction I may later regret. A “Help me Jesus,” is never a bad idea either!

As for Louie, I think he acts tough not only out of fear but also out of his love for and desire to protect me. He has learned to control it because when I give a command, he listens. Somewhere behind those big brown eyes, he knows I love him and will always protect him.

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Let me know what you think of Louie’s assessment of fear and pride: danise@di-advisors.com

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