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

Don’t Hey Me!

Oh, the lessons I continue to discover thanks to my adopted pup Louie. While we’ve learned a tremendous amount and understand each other’s idiosyncrasies, there are a few behaviors of his that still puzzle me.

For example, I never know which humans he will growl at or who will get a tail wag from him. Since being together for over three years, I’ve concluded there is no rhyme or reason to his selection process. And then it hit me one morning as I was going through the avalanche of messages I received while being out of the office for a few days. Quite a few were from people I didn’t know from companies I wasn’t familiar with.

We’ve all received emails, voice mails, or LinkedIn messages with the greeting of HEY [Insert your name here]! It’s not the “Hey, Danise” that irks me; it’s the fact that I don’t know these people, and yet they act like we’re good buddies. As they continue their message, I start mentally clicking through my contacts trying to recall a chance meeting we may have had. By the message I received, you would think we were long lost friends. It is a marketing tactic that is running rampant in today’s social media world of superficial relationships.

It may just be me, but this tactic shuts down any possibility of that person being heard because I have a belief that the messenger, though he or she may have great information, is probably not being authentic. While I am perfectly okay with people using informal greetings, I am not okay with people acting like they know me when we’ve never connected.

Louie is no different. When someone he does not know approaches him, talks sweet, and acts like they are friends, he becomes very leery of them. Children are the only exception to his rule. Granted, Louie is cute, and everyone wants to talk to him. But if he doesn’t know them and senses something uncomfortable about them, he will lower his head and step to the side as if to move out of their reach. If that doesn’t work, he will back up and bark at them.

His message is clear . . . Don’t act like you know me when you don’t!

I learned this lesson the hard way over twenty-five years ago. The medical imaging equipment company I worked for acquired a small but very technically advanced company. Along with that acquisition came a regional manager, Joe, who became my boss. Joe recommended that I connect with a friend of his, Wendell, at a hospital in Louisville. I called Wendell on his private line, and he picked up on the first ring with a very gruff, “Hello!”

I cleared my throat, and in my perky salesgirl voice, I said, “Hi, Wendell. This is Danise DiStasi. Joe Hartzog suggested that I reach out to you. How are you today?”

“Fine!”

I cleared my throat a second time. “Great. Well, Wendell, I’m sure you’re busy, so I’ll—”

“Excuse me, young lady! Do I know you?”

“Hmmm, well, uh, I don’t believe we’ve met, have we? I think we may only know each other through Joe.”

“I don’t know you at all. Why do you think you can call me by my first name? I’d prefer to be addressed as Dr. Tyson.”

Needless to say, there were a few awkward moments after that announcement, and the recovery was tough. But I understood Dr. Tyson loud and clear. My boss, Joe, never addressed him as Dr. Tyson, only Wendell. I assumed it was okay for me to address him that way as well, even though we had never met. This was a classic case of being ill-prepared. And Dr. Tyson saw right through me. He didn’t know me, and me thinking that I had an “in” was not going to work with him.

While we may prefer to be immediately relational, what must come first is authenticity, which goes a long way with Louie and with humans. Dogs are incredibly sensitive to people being who they “say” they are, but we humans have to work a bit harder to figure out who people really are. The tactic of someone acting like they know us defies our basic human need of wanting to be truly known and, even deeper, to be known and loved. The superficiality of today is leaving a relational void in so many people’s lives.

I believe it is best to be authentic in every aspect of your life. Brené Brown talks about this in her famous TED Talk about the power of vulnerability. The people she studied who seemed to have a strong sense of love and belonging shared these three things:

  • Courage
  • Compassion
  • Authenticity

In her words, “These folks had the courage to be imperfect. They had a connection as a result of authenticity. They were willing to let go of who they thought they should be in order to be who they are.”

What you see is what you get when you connect with Louie: No pretenses, no games—just the real deal. He expects that in return from the humans he comes in contact with, and he is confused when he senses otherwise. Thanks to Louie, I have learned to let go of who I thought I should be in order to be who I really am.

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Louie had to say goodbye to his lifelong buddy, Sampson, this weekend. Sammy was a great pal to Louie and was the real deal. We will always remember the fun walks and visits we had with him. Louie will miss seeing and playing with him, as will everyone in our neighborhood. Run and jump, little Sampson. You’re bound by nothing that will ever hold you back from being the fun-loving pup you were created to be.

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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Back to Normal, Whatever That Means!

Our last blog detailed a journey I’m glad to say I am more than halfway through. If all goes well, my release date from all restrictions is February 1, 2017. I am off all pain medication, and I took my first solo drive yesterday. I am beginning to see some normalcy slowly trickle back into my life. Again, I am completely humbled by the continued outpouring of love and encouragement. Thank you!

And then, there’s Louie! Louie was as traumatized as I was through this journey. He had to adjust to my being gone for two weeks; friends coming and going, walking and feeding him, playing with him, all while he constantly watched the door with the hope I would walk through it any minute.

Now that I’m home and he’s learned to trust my erratic movements with a cane, he seems to have settled back into some interesting habits: growling at people who come to my door (even his dog walkers) and jumping on the couch to sit directly across from me (better to watch me, he says).

One evening, a friend came by to take Louie for a walk. After they finished and she came in to sit with me for awhile, he ran into the house, checked on me, and then ran upstairs, where he ran the length of the hallway several times. Then, I heard a big commotion, and from where I was sitting, I could tell what that little rascal was doing. He was getting into my clothesbasket in my bathroom and taking all the clothes out of it, having no consideration whatsoever for the amount of time it took me to get the clothes into that basket.

His continued motion, which was evident even though he was a floor above me, indicated he not only removed the items from the basket, he was also rolling in them—all of them! Some time ago, I explained to Zig, our trainer, Louie’s annoying bad habit of rolling in the dirty laundry. I assumed it was because he wanted to surround himself with my smell, weird as that is.

But Zig assured me that was not it at all. Louie was getting his smell on my clothes, showing his dominance over me. WHAT? Now that is a really annoying bad habit that makes me realize we are back to square one. There will be no dominance of Louie over me.

But this is not surprising. When it takes all my energy to walk from the living room to the kitchen, disciplining a dog is not high on my list, especially since we’ve been through this before. The pressure was off of Louie to behave well, and when the pressure is off, he reverts back to his old habits.

That is so like us. A while ago, I wrote a blog about something I learned from my time with The Ken Blanchard Companies about the dynamics of change. One dynamic is that when the pressure is off, we revert to our original behaviors. Well, the pressure was definitely off, and Louie was back to some of his old habits. We will need to spend time correcting that. But rather than lament, I reflected on what this means as far as my recent journey and getting “back to normal.”

Finally being able to drive did give me a sense of life getting back to normal. Getting off medication, walking better, and looking forward to some normalcy were great goals for recovery. But did I really want normalcy to be my goal?

Not this time, not this year. I am going to be intentional (keeping the pressure on) about breaking past the norm to live a well-meaning life by doing the following:

  • pruning activities, objects, and even some relationships, all to devote precious time to what matters;
  • being kind in thought, word, and deed, whether people deserve it or not. I don’t mean just merely being nice (and sometimes superficial and phony), but being authentic and loving—speaking truth in love and showing those who differ from me, or have differing viewpoints, the compassion that only comes from faith in God;
  • taking time to listen in order to learn—and not rushing to the next project;
  • being still and having plenty of margin in my life;
  • laughing more; and
  • dancing (okay, that one is normal for me, but now takes on an even more special meaning). I will take time to dance more with my grandchildren and even my adult daughter because that’s what DiStasi kids do. My niece Sara is getting married in September, and she has promised we will dance the night away. That is my goal for 2017.

Be intentional about breaking past the norm. Life is too short and too easily interrupted for us to stay stuck in the status quo. And you are never too old to take that first step to crashing through the “same ol’, same ol’.”

As for Louie, we have some work to do. As I have been writing, he slipped into my laundry room and pulled out a dishtowel. He is so bad. I know he has a large fan base of people who love him, but this annoying little habit just makes me shake my head. I suppose being intentionally kind starts now with little Louie DiStasi!

 

 

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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.

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8 1 15 book cover

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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He’s Back With A Unique Leadership Model

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love

Louie was either lost or abandoned in Kentucky and made his way to Cincinnati, where I live, through a number of shelters. Although I love dogs, I had decided not to get another one for many reasons—that is, until I just happened to stop by PetSmart while they were conducting an adopt-a-pet weekend and encountered this abandoned mutt with big brown. I tossed my concerns aside, brought him home, and named him Louie DiStasi. I soon discovered that Louie had brought a lot of emotional baggage to the relationship. He demonstrated behaviors that deeply concerned me, and I engaged a dog trainer to help address them. I quickly realized I needed training as much as Louie did, if not more so.

I’m not afraid of tough lessons, and I’m always looking for ways to improve my leadership skills. But working with Louie was challenging. The bottom line was that Louie needed acceptance, consistency, discipline, and—above all—unconditional love. I wasn’t sure I was equipped to provide all that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Objectives and Goals

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

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

Understanding

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

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

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

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

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

Investment

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

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

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

Empowerment

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

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

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

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

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Are You Doing What You’ve Been Created To Do?

IMG_3252A few weeks ago during a beautiful, spring-like day, Louie and I took a long, quick-paced walk. As we headed into the homestretch, we slowed, and Louie stopped to investigate a grassy area. Suddenly he took three hops and then pounced on a tunnel that clearly contained a live mole running for its life just a few inches underground.

Louie was unstoppable. With his long snout he dug, snorted, clawed, and tore away chunks of grass. I was amazed as I watched him and could only imagine the mole’s heart racing as it made its way under a fence to safety. Louie made it clear that no mole is safe in his neighborhood. And with that he turned, puffed out his chest, and pranced away.

I’ve never seen Louie hop, but the bounce in his step and the sheer determination in his hot pursuit of the mole made me smile. Rather than walk away in defeat, he strutted off knowing he did exactly what he was created to do—hunt moles.

As we walked I wondered about being created for a purpose. Louie instinctively knows to track a scent, and nothing deters him once he is on one. But what about you as a leader or those you lead? Are you doing what you were created to do? Are you providing the environment for your direct reports to do what they’ve been created to do? Very few people do, and you immediately recognize those who are: the speaker who captivates you till the end, the author who unlocks a truth deep within, the woodworker who takes your breath away with his talent, the businesswoman who builds a relationship while providing the exact solution needed, and the teacher who watches another class graduate.

Yet so many times people are placed in roles because a function needs to be filled. The frustration builds when a particular position is not at all what that person was designed to do. For instance, a company just lost its vice president of sales. The organization already has a successful account manager, and due to budget and time constraints, management decides to promote this employee into the role. It is unlikely that the account manager will be successful because he or she may not be a hunter or is uncomfortable going after a deal. Most account managers prefer to nurture accounts, follow a process, and assist customers with their experience. As a result, sales will suffer and the new vice president, once thriving and successful, will suffer as well.

Once we recognize that we aren’t doing what we were created to do, we may feel a prolonged level of dissatisfaction. That’s when it is time to take stock and make changes:

  • Listen to your gut. We’ve heard that intuition or following our heart gets us into trouble, but most of the time, there is a reason for that gnawing feeling that something is just not right. Listen to it and investigate; dig around to find out what’s causing these feelings.
  • Listen to and watch others. I remember the movie Chariots of Fire, about the Olympic runner Eric Liddell, who explains to his sister, “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.” As you see others light up and recognize their purpose, take note of the times you have felt a high level of energy when you were doing a certain task.
  • Passion is another way to understand what you were created for. There are certain issues that fire you up. Even as you read this, you can think of one or two. Take the necessary next step to get involved in such causes. Don’t let the uncertainty of the second step keep you from taking the first step.*
  • What are you gifted in? What do people ask you for help with? What drains you, and what gives you energy? Recognize that the life-giving activities are the ones you were created to do.

The good news is that we were all created for a purpose, and we all have different purposes. Once we understand what we are created for, life becomes so much more rewarding. Imagine yourself as a leader helping those around you find their purpose.

Be aware-not everyone will appreciate your purpose or calling. I’ve blogged about the dream slayers in our lives. This is very similar. There are people who would rather have mole tunnels and rows of dead grass in their yard than a hound dog burrowing his nose in the ground. I recently gave a speech and challenged people to assess the lies in their life that cause them to hide behind a façade. Not everyone wants to face that challenge. I’ve been called to help women be strong, bold and humble without being pushy, rude or weak. Achieving that balance means first addressing the lie that knocked us off kilter.

As for my little buddy Louie—he is not a retriever; he’s a hunter. He is in his element when he hunts moles. He can pick up the scent of a mole several yards away. Although I am really proud of his ability to scare them away, I don’t want to know what on earth he will do if he actually catches one. Stay tuned!

* Henry Blackaby

Out, damned mole! Out, I say!

 

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