Leadership Training Doesn’t Work

Louie and I were walking down the street toward our home. A neighbor was getting into her car and stopped to stare at Louie as he proudly pranced by. We exchanged hellos, and she smiled at Lou and said, “He’s such a good boy.” I just laughed and nodded.

He looked at me and I at him, and I thought, “He is a pretty good dog.” But then I continued that conversation in my head: “Well, most of the time. I mean, sometimes, he can be a bit, well, let’s just say mischievous.” Quite honestly, he is a totally different dog than he was during our first few months together.

Louie’s transformation was no accident—I was very intentional in making changes in my life and my leadership style, and it took a lot of work.

THE ONE THING

But the most transformative power in our journey together was my decision to be a loving person and to pour love into little Louie. I saw a significant difference in his behavior a few months into our time together and continue to see today, four years later!

Sadly, the word “love” receives eye rolls and shoulder shrugs. The word gets tossed around frequently these days in every circle that wants to claim it is the most loving. We see countless hateful Facebook posts and counter posts on how we need to love. Over four years ago, in my first Louie’s Leadership Lessons blog post, I took a chance and wrote about showing Lou unconditional love, knowing how the world viewed the “l-word”, especially in the workplace. Yet as we conduct more and more LOUIE speeches and workshops, one thing that is always consistent is the total misunderstanding of the word love.

A few months after my blog post on love, Harvard Business Review published a study demonstrating that employees perform better when they feel loved. The study made a distinction between friendship love and romantic love, mainly that friendship love is based on warmth, affection, and connection rather than passion. The study revealed, “It is the small moments between coworkers—a warm smile, a kind note, a sympathetic ear—day after day, month after month, [Danise’s Note: on a consistent basis] that help create and maintain a strong culture of companion love and the employee satisfaction, productivity, and client satisfaction that comes with it.”

STOP IT AND WHY!

So here’s my challenge to you today: stop training and coaching your staff in hopes of seeing change. Be the leader who genuinely loves! Unless you’re capable of showing authentic love to others, you will most likely cultivate a very toxic culture within your organization, family, and community. Don’t confuse being nice with demonstrating love. They are two different qualities. Love is a heart issue!

On the flip side, my observation has been that bosses who try to manufacture these qualities but demonstrate behavior to the contrary engender fear and mistrust among their employees.

THE HOW

May I be so bold as to take this a step further? I think it is virtually impossible to feel joy or experience peace in your life if you’re incapable of true genuine love. Most of us do not understand love. So let me help you. Here’s the tip of the iceberg of what I’ve been learning over four years of studying and blogging about Louie and love:

  • Love is an alignment of the whole self toward what is good and right.
  • Love must be aimed at and practiced. It takes work; as Martin Luther King, Jr., said, “It takes strength to love.”
  • Love is not turned on and turned off for this person or for that It is consistently who you are.
  • To demonstrate love, be a person possessed by love, so that you can go to an adversary as a loving person rather than going to an adversary and then trying to love that person.
  • Love arises out of a pure heart.
  • Love is directed toward what is good and right from the depths of ourselves, from which actions come.
  • If we take care of the sources of actions, the actions will take care of themselves.
  • Love itself is patient, kind, trustworthy, true; not prideful, doesn’t hold on to grudges and is humble. We are to pursue love, and the rest takes care of itself.
  • Seek what is best and what is true. Truth is sometimes very hard to share and to hear. Yet many times, it is the most loving aspect of a genuine relationship.
  • Love is not something you choose to do but what or who you choose to be.
  • Look for the sources of malice in yourself and focus efforts upon grace to change them.
  • Malice is rooted in how we think of people—as objects—with little understanding of who they are or the difficulties they may have experienced in their lives.
  • Finally, love is the willingness to serve others for the greater good, above our own wants.

There’s no way you can be patient with others, show kindness, have integrity, be faithful to your word, be gentle, or exhibit self-control without love. All of these excellent characteristics are rooted in love. And as leaders, we must be people of love, not just doers of nice things. Check your motives and your hearts.

WHERE TRANSFORMATION TRULY BEGINS

It wasn’t easy for me to show consistent, genuine love to Louie. And it has been even more difficult to show love to people who are unlovable, demanding, or different from me—or those who have disappointed me. But I know what true love is, and I stand amazed that God so loves me! Who am I to withhold that love from people who may need it most?

I chose Louie, difficult personality and all. Granted, we usually do not get to choose those we are commanded to love in the workplace. But people in your space could be transformed because you choose to love them.

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Over the years, I’ve gleaned the above information from the Bible, Lead Like Jesus, Dallas Willard, and The Arbinger Group. My favorite resource on love is the following:

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.

Love never dies.

1Corinthians 13:4-10

Bad Behavior Is Contagious!

With the recent beautiful weather, Louie and I have been taking long walks and enjoying our time together. Louie is a pretty happy pup lately and trots down the street with a prance that matches his joyful heart.

But then there’s this girl. You see, she’s absolutely beautiful with striking white fur and pale-blue eyes lined in black. She’s a tall, slim husky/shepherd mix, and Louie is not quite sure what to think of her. Apparently, she is also confused about him when they pass on the street.

You lookin’ at me?

In his usual tough guy style, he gives her a look that says, “Are you lookin’ at me? Uh, you lookin’ at me?”

She then stands a little taller and looks down at him as if to say, “What are you talking about? You’re lookin’ at me!” He puffs his chest out and she pushes her nose at him, and before you know it they are huffing and puffing and challenging one another. With a slight tug on his leash and my usual command to “leave it,” we continue on our walk.

Now these two have had great interactions before, and, based on Louie’s body language and tone of voice, he’s not aggressively challenging her. But I find it interesting that his bad behavior provokes her bad behavior and, if allowed, it may escalate to a more serious challenge.

I noticed this too with his little buddy, Mac. Louie typically ignores him, but when Mac is unusually “active,” Louie seems to chime right in and become an obnoxious pup by playing rough (with me, not another dog) or ignoring me when it is time to settle down.

Our work teams are very similar. Although a smile or a word of affirmation from a coworker can spread good cheer in the workplace, bad behavior and rudeness are also contagious. Being rude or impolite to your coworkers can lead them to behave the same way, negatively affecting our culture and productivity.

As leaders, rudeness should not be tolerated in our work or homes. While there may be many reasons for someone to be in a bad mood and react negatively, it is our responsibility as leaders to demonstrate that even under unpleasant circumstances it is never okay to be rude and disrespectful. So what are we to do?

It seems the “leave it” command works well for Louie, and it works well for me, too. “Leave it” doesn’t mean to ignore the situation and hope it goes away. It simply means to not dwell on it and let the emotion subside. Oswald Chambers, an early twentieth-century Scottish theologian and teacher, said over a century ago, “There is always at least one more fact, which we know nothing about, in every person’s situation.”

This is a good time to revisit the PAWS method. When someone is rude and your first inclination is to become upset and respond rudely, try this method to help you analyze the situation before doing something you may regret:

  1. Pause—breathe! Allow oxygen to get to your brain. You may need to walk away for a bit and then revisit the situation. There is power in the pause. When we pause before speaking, we gain time to process our thoughts.
  2. Ask questions: “What’s going on?” “Can you tell me more?” “Can you help me understand?” “Is everything okay?” Ask yourself these things: Is there something else going on in this person’s life? What’s going on with me? Why does this aggravate me? Reflect on your answers before you speak.
  3. Wisdom: Choose your words wisely. I would much rather have people feel uncomfortable waiting for me to find the right words than allowing myself to get sucked into poor behavior. 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.
  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!

There is no reason to tolerate rudeness in our workplace, and studies have shown that bad behavior begets bad behavior. We have a responsibility as leaders to stop that behavior in order to maintain or restore a healthy culture.

As for Louie and his beautiful tall cool blonde friend, I think they may secretly like each other. I may have to help him a bit with showing girls his interest. So far he’s not scoring any points, but I still love him.

My bad little dog, talented as he may be. He actually pulled a towel out of the laundry basket and somehow wrapped himself in it and settled in for a nap!

 

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Through lessons learned from a well-loved rescue pup, a leadership model emerges that makes the connection to relationships, revealing the small ways leaders can empower their teams every day.

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Will You Please Stop Whining

A passing thought drifted through my mind the other day: I will miss all the love and attention I have received over the past few weeks. But since I would rather hear “Wow, you’re doing so well” than “Oh, gee, sorry you’re still struggling with your recovery,” the thought passed quickly, never to return.

Because I’m ready to close the chapter on my accident and subsequent surgery, my passing thought is not what the subject line is referring to. This is a blog about my persnickety pup Louie and his ever-increasing need to whine. While I know he suffered trauma over the past couple of months along with me, his whining seems to have increased exponentially rather than to have subsided as I would have expected. I soon discovered his behavior has nothing to do with my injury. Instead, Louie is reacting to a new dog in the neighborhood.

This new dog represents everything Louie hates. The dog is a male, he’s bigger than Lou, and he’s . . . shhhh . . . not neutered. The last issue sends Louie into a tizzy even before we walk out the door. His hackles go up, and he puffs out his chest and huffs as he walks out. But then the incessant whining begins. And once he starts that, it’s tough to get him to stop.

One morning as we exited the garage, we made a sharp left turn out of our driveway and hurried away from where the dog lives as quickly as a girl with a cane can manage. Louie looked back, whined, and seemed disoriented. I tugged on his collar and gave a stern command, “Leave it,” which he immediately obeyed, but his memory is keen, and it quickly took him back to the dark side. I was hoping he would find a new smell to distract him.

Thanks to Zig our dog trainer, I learned a long time ago that Louie whines out of fear, so I have to step up and walk with confidence. That’s tough to do considering I’m still healing, but I did the best I could. Louie suspiciously eyed the cane, and then looked back at me with a face that said he was not convinced I could protect us both . . . and I didn’t blame him.

As our walk settled into a more relaxed pace, I reflected on why some people, like Louie, seem to whine so much. Do you have a few whiners on your team? It’s easy to get frustrated and dismiss them, but there is usually something deeper going on that we may never uncover unless we take the time to do so.

Fear is a big issue for Louie, which is why he whines. Fear is a big issue for people as well and could be the reason some folks whine. I have learned to counter Louie’s fear, not with my confidence but with love. Love is the first step of the LOUIE Leadership model:

  • Love is foundational to building trust and integrity for a personal or professional relationship to flourish. Without love and trust, our relationships are like fragile shells that have nothing inside of them and with the slightest amount of pressure, are easily shattered. Because of the love I have demonstrated for Louie on a regular basis, he has learned to trust me. [For more on Leading With Trust, see this article by my friend, Randy Conley, Vice President of Client Services & Trust Practice Leader for The Ken Blanchard Companies.]
  • A teammate may whine because the team is experiencing a daunting and uncomfortable change. Loving people through such change does not mean we coddle them. It means we shed light on the situation, we share the truth, and we press through together.
  • Love is more impactful than complaining to others that someone is a whiner.
  • Our society tends to misuse the word love. In fact, very few understand the strength and character it takes to love others. We have fluffy commercials about it, emoticons, and Facebook posts. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”
  • And who can argue with this verse: “Such love has no fear because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced His (God’s) perfect love.”

I doubt Louie will be able to love the new dog in the neighborhood anytime soon. In fact, I’m sure he is hoping the dog moves away. In the meantime, I’m working on loving Lou through this ordeal and rebuilding his confidence and trust in me so he knows I will never allow another dog to threaten him.

But Louie is a dog and as humans, we can choose to love. You can be the change agent for someone by removing fear of punishment or detrimental consequences and instilling love instead. Such love is the gateway to experiencing God’s perfect love and the cornerstone on which excellent and effective leadership is built.

NOTE: My friend T.D. Hughes knows how emphatic I am about leadership and love and recently sent me an article I thought you would enjoy as well. It’s Okay to Love Your Employees

**Speaking of love, Louie sends his love for a wonderful Valentine’s Day**

Picture compliments of Louie’s favorite place, Best Friend’s Pet Center

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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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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.

thre-pics-of-me-and-lou

8 1 15 book cover

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Territorial or Protective—What’s The Difference?

14444651_10210712824753587_1770244759302485472_oLouie and I have a very touchy subject to discuss, one that is also a continuing issue. Just when I think Louie is over this particular behavior, he reverts to square one, and we have to start training all over again.

Every time someone comes to my door, he has a very strong reaction; he starts barking, growling, and lowering his head—all signs that he is ready to attack, even though he has never attacked anyone. While this is great for all the intruders that come to my door, it can also be annoying since most are guests or delivering expected packages.

My guests will walk in, fully expecting an overly excited dog to greet them. I’ve worked with Louie to sit and remain seated until I give him a release signal. Only then can he approach the guest and smell the person. But the minute I do not enforce this training, he goes right back to his bad behavior.

Ever since I’ve known Louie, he has had only great experiences at my front door. I have welcomed everyone who has entered with hugs, and they love seeing Louie. He has never encountered someone breaking in, trying to kidnap me, or causing any commotion whatsoever at the front door. The people he encounters are simply entering my home.

I had to ask myself, what would cause this behavior? Did he have a bad past experience? Is he afraid someone will take him from his cushy environment? Does he not want me to give anyone else any attention? None of this made sense.

When I share about his behavior with others, everyone says he is just being protective, and I’m left again to ask why. Why does he think I need protection? And if I do need it, then shouldn’t he react the same way when we are on a walk and someone approaches me? But he doesn’t. He could care less. In fact, I am sure that if someone with ill intent approached me, he would run in the opposite direction as fast as he could. He doesn’t care if I pet other dogs, and all my neighbors can attest to this behavior—but only outside.

Inside my house, it’s a different story. Over the last three years, I have realized that Louie is indeed protecting his territory. Given his history, he has a profound need to feel safe and clearly does not want anyone disrupting that. While I appreciate that and want him to feel safe, it annoys me to fight this battle every time someone comes to my door. Being territorial is not very becoming and can turn many people away. I have to shake my head and wonder why dogs, especially Louie, behave that way. And then it hit me: I am the very same way. I am territorial.

For instance, I struggled with sharing the LOUIE leadership model in our last blog because of the thoughts that slowly began to creep into my mind and heart. Someone, I thought, will steal it and call it their own (no one ever does that in the training/consulting world, right?) or say they thought of it first. And so on. Such thoughts continued to color my excitement about developing and sharing the model and the Louie stories that accompanied each step. While I shake my head and ask Louie why he acts like he does, I had to ask myself the same question. What benefit is it to anyone if I am territorial and hoard a new idea?

It is humbling to realize that a behavior is very unbecoming. We humans are so often territorial when we think we have a great idea, a unique method, or a new creation. An old expression often brings me back to reality:

There is nothing new under the sun!

Louie’s behavior is typical of most dogs. For humans to want to protect their turf is normal. But just because it is “typical” or “normal” behavior does not mean it is acceptable. I shared the LOUIE model because it is a really great model and not mine to hoard. It was gifted to me by the one who blessed me with Louie—God. And I believe God wants me to give freely to others the gifts with which He has blessed me.

Now if I can just get Louie to see our home as a gift that we should share with others, we’d be so much better off! We have a lot of work to do!

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Louie had to say goodbye to his sweet cousin, Lily, last week! Our family will always have fond memories of her running around the pool, trying to keep everyone in line. In the last year, she finally realized our family was not easily corraled. Now you have thousand of pools to run around, Lil, and millions of angels to herd. You will be missed!

lily

Gia, Leah, Gina, Sara, Laura, and sweet Lily!

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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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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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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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