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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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

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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