From Little Reminders to Lifelong Memories

It’s not been that long since Louie’s friend Sammy passed. Every time we walk by Sammy’s home, Louie will check out the stake in the ground and attached leash or scope out a lingering smell that I’m sure reminds him of his friend. I can’t help but wonder what he remembers and what he thinks as he looks toward Sammy’s front door. Does he wonder why he hasn’t seen his friend in a while, or does he somehow know Sammy won’t be coming out to play? He seems satisfied with the little reminders of Sammy as we move on with our walk.

I know Louie has a great memory because of all the issues we’ve dealt with over the years in getting him to think differently about people coming to the door, the smell of cigars, or other triggers. I’m sure he remembers Sammy prancing outside to play, Allie greeting him with lots of kisses, and Khaki regally sitting atop the hill, waiting for Sir Louie to arrive. The little reminders of his friends who have passed on seem to fill Louie’s heart and spirit with joy and fondness.

Sometimes we humans tend to rush right past those reminders because we don’t want to dwell in the past, or it may be too painful to park there a moment. But they are nestled in our memories and, many times, those reminders are necessary for our well-being.

I recently visited my brother and his family in Phoenix and had the pleasure of bringing my granddaughter Evi with me. What a joy! In addition to the beauty of Arizona, we really enjoyed visiting Mark, Agnes, and Christian. More times than not I would look across the table at Evi and swear I was looking at her mother, my daughter, Marisa. Mark and I both caught ourselves calling Evi by the endearing name my family calls Marisa—Rissy!

What sparked this thirty-year lapse in memory? The twinkle in Evi’s eyes, her contagious laugh, the way she holds her hand up to her mouth as she tells a story, her facial expressions, and her tone of voice. Her face alone is a replica of Marisa’s—oh, the little reminders.

But it goes deeper. I see my mom in so many ways when I look at Marisa and Evi! And when Mea, my youngest granddaughter, crinkles her nose when she laughs, I see a glimpse of my mom who did the same thing. All these reminders fill my heart with lifelong memories. Those memories open the door to a better understanding of the wisdom that has been passed down through the years. I hear my mom’s voice as I am reminded of the life lessons I’ve learned that have been passed to my daughter and now to her daughters—wisdom like this:

  • You can do whatever you’d like as long as you understand the consequences and are willing to face them (I wish I would have listened to that wisdom a bit more carefully).
  • You don’t need a thousand friends (and this before Facebook). You do need a few good close friends (two to four) with whom you can trust and share life.
  • Look people in the eyes; show them they matter.
  • Never be so upset with someone that you won’t say hello (a kind and genuine hello) to him or her in public.
  • Family matters.

Whether across the table in Phoenix or every time my brothers and sisters share funny stories of our youth with my granddaughters, Evi and Mea, I see my mom and I hear her voice. Through such small and seemingly irrelevant reminders, my heart soars to the heights of a lifelong memory of my mother. I have been blessed that my mom spent significant time with Marisa before she passed. And now I am blessed to share life with my daughter and grandchildren and to watch Marisa blossom into a wonderful, loving mother.

Yes, I am sure Louie relishes the little reminders of his dear friends who have passed on, and it must bring him joy as he taps into a lifelong memory. I see the joy by the way he walks and even in his face. And I have to smile every time I know Louie is enjoying a wonderful memory.

Don’t rush by the little reminders that pop up in the daily haste to the next thing. You’ll be missing a soul refresher, a spark of a wonderful, lifelong memory. And in our hurried world, we all need these refreshing little reminders.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms making memories (doggie moms included).

 

Mick reminding Louie it is good to slow down!

For Louie’s faithful friends…Thank You!!

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Life Interrupted

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Life interrupted has taught Louie and me a few things:

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

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

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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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Life Long Friends

IMG_3098I’ve written about Louie’s new gal pals moving into the neighborhood, Louie’s getting to know rambunctious puppies, and his tolerance (or occasional intolerance) of guests in our home. You’ve been introduced to his chest-bumping pal, Mick, his walking buddy Sully and his steady girls Eve and Ellie. But we’ve not talked about Sampson much. That’s because there’s not much to talk about. Sampson (or Sammy) is just a steady as you go, no drama kind of pup. And Louie loves that because Louie needs steady and stable.

Louie and Sammy met a few years ago. Sampson is an adorable pug who is occasionally stubborn while walking with his mom. But Louie rarely sees that side of Sammy. The pups happily acknowledge each other and then just walk side by side. Sammy waddles, Louie prances, and the pace seems to work for them both.

Lou can be who he is when he’s with Sampson. He can just simply be. It’s almost as though he lets out a long sigh and says, “Hey buddy.” And then they just walk together. They don’t romp around or chase each other. They just stroll.

While I have many friends and family members who love me just as I am, my lifetime friend Gina has known me since the day I was born. Our parents were friends long before we came along and despite their moving to L.A. when Gina and I were three, our parents remained friends and my friendship with Gina deepened over the years. To this day, Gina and I talk regularly and visit as often as possible.

The best thing about Gina is that I can be my authentic self with her. I don’t have to perform or jump through hoops or pretend or walk on egg shells. I learned about the power of vulnerability decades ago because my friendship with Gina helped me see the areas in my life that kept me from being real. It wasn’t a book or a training session or a counselor, although those are great tools. It was the power of relationship that brought me to where I am today.

Much like Louie and Sampson, Gina and I don’t have to be talking to feel close and can simply bask in the golden silence of true friendship. We have shared life’s sorrows including death of loved ones, divorce, remarriage and we’ve shared life’s joys such as the birth of each other’s children. We can call at 3 a.m. and one of us will answer the phone with, “What’s wrong?” We’ve been through sickness, job promotions, sixty birthdays and many Kauai sunsets. Through thick and thin, we will always be best friends.

I know Gina loves me enough to address a character flaw she may see in me long before others do. I trust her to be honest and caring, so I welcome her feedback. Some leaders think they are above feedback but without it, they can end up with negative consequences that affect their relationships as well as their job performance. We all need friends in our lives who act as a stopgap to our bad behavioral choices. And we must be willing to listen.

Every leader needs a Gina! And every leader needs to hear when their Gina says, “I’m not sure about that.” Just as every Louie needs a Sampson, a steady as you go, let’s walk side by side pal who cares more about you than they do themselves. These kinds of friends truly enrich our lives and make us better people, leaders…or pets!

Me and Gina (left), 1956 (And my sister Donna 🙂

Me and Gina

Me and Gina–still crazy after all these years!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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