Pause (PAWS) and Reflect

I envy my dog Louie’s ability to just be. As I watch him looking out the window, I often wonder whether he is looking for something in particular. Is he remembering the mole he dug out of the dirt in the backyard and thrashed it about until it was lifeless (witnessed by my granddaughter Evi)? Is he thinking of the many raccoons he has run up the tree? Or is he waiting for the deer to cross his path? They would be wise to choose another route! No matter what he may be thinking, he is perfectly content to hit the pause (PAWS) button on life and just be.

While Christmas is already upon us and soon we’ll be ringing in the New Year, I have to look back over 2017 and ask with astonishment, “What happened?” It’s not my typical thought, “Wow, this year went fast.” That is because this year was different.

On December 18, 2016, I had an accident and had to have surgery to repair a femur that was broken in two places and a full hip replacement. “Give yourself a year,” the surgeon said during a follow-up exam in which the details were extremely fuzzy. His prediction of a year to recover seemed to hit a nerve for me. No sooner were the words out of the surgeon’s mouth than I boldly shrugged and said, “Who needs a year? I’ll be fine!”

The process of recovery was grueling and I barely remember Christmas last year other than spending it at the home of my daughter and son-in-law with the two cutest nurses ever. But I did recover and was pleased with how well I was able to move around. It helped that it was a pretty mild winter last year so that I was able to get outside and walk.

Many were amazed at how well I recovered physically, including me. But I have to be honest; the incident literally and figuratively knocked me off my feet and knocked the wind out of me for almost the entire year. The surgeon was right: it would take every bit of a year. And over the months, I stopped to pause many times.

There’s a word in the Old Testament that I’ve grown to cherish over this past year: Selah. Although some debate the meaning, I’ve learned that its definition is “Pause and reflect on this.” While it may have been written centuries ago, it is still a good reminder for our world today to pause every now and then and reflect. Yet sometimes, we may need a little help hitting the pause button. I would say that my accident certainly helped me to pause and reflect on my life.

Of course, I would never wish such an injury on anyone, but I will admit that I am a better person for having gone through it. I enjoy life more, love more deeply, listen more emphatically, notice people in need more often, laugh more heartily, and celebrate more joyously.

And I am not the only one who has changed. I have seen a complete transformation in Louie over the past year. Because he’s had to slow down with me, he is more patient. I can tell he is more trusting of friends, he is more engaging when we visit schools and nursing homes. And he is even more loving and playful with Evi and Mea and houseguests.

I am grateful for a blessed life and—although I am not sure how this could ever be possible—I love God, even more, each day. And I am grateful for you too! Thank you for reading our Louie blog over the years. We are excited about some news we will be sharing in the first quarter of 2018, thanks to the many words of encouragement and feedback we have received from Louie’s followers. You’ll soon be the first to know.

In the meantime, during this wonderful season, do what Louie does—hit the PAWS button. And in doing so, be thankful for all the many things you have to be grateful for.

God bless you and your family! Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year.

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.

Leader, Reignite Your Sense of Wonder

Louie hit a rough patch last week. One night shortly after settling into our nightly routine, he became restless. He rarely dances around to signal his need to go outside; when he did so, we made it to the front yard just in the nick of time. He clearly had an upset stomach and was one miserable little pup.

I wasn’t sure how he would fare through the night, but I knew he would let me know if he needed to make a trip outside. Sure enough, at midnight and then again at 1:30 a.m., he woke me up, needing to go out. I was administering the proper foods to settle his digestive system, but I had already decided to call the vet in the morning to get him in as soon as possible.

Then something magical happened. It’s tough to put the words “magical” and “upset stomach” in the same sentence, but that is exactly what took place. While I was thinking through all the practical reasons Louie was sick and slowly trying to coax him back into the house, he stopped and looked far off into the distance. Normally, Louie can become nervous when he’s outside in the dark; he usually wants to head back inside as soon as possible. Our trainer has advised me that I need to walk boldly and with confidence when we’re outside after dark so that Louie will feel safe.

But standing outside at 1:30 in the morning, I had no desire to be the alpha. I just wanted to go back to bed with a hope and a prayer that Louie would be on the mend. At the moment, though, Louie was fixated on something that grabbed his attention; even with a slight tug, he would not move.

Then it happened. Rather than scurrying back to the safety of the house, we stood and took in the magic of a peaceful, quiet night. He slowly looked from the street up to the stars above. I stopped, too, and looked. The sky was beautiful, and the quietness with a few faint nighttime sounds was breathtaking. Louie seemed to marvel at the night sky. I noticed it, too—and it grabbed my heart.

We spent a long moment drinking in the beauty. I looked at my pup, and we both knew it was time to go in. After our midnight reverie, whatever Louie tapped into must have healed his nerves because he settled in for a long, deep sleep. The next day, he woke up without a trace of sickness.

As I type out this message, I am compelled to ponder this thought: when did I lose this sense of wonder? I see it emerge when I play with my grandchildren—when we go off on adventures. But as Louie and I stood together that evening, I realized that it can be easy to mistake wonder for foolishness. In fact, I have to ask myself—is this thought just foolishness?

I so desire to reignite my sense of incredible marvel. For me, this is about more than being creative: it is seeing the beauty and magic in the world all around us—the creation that God breathed life into. It is engaging with a dear friend in deep, heartwarming conversation. It is watching my beautiful niece walk along a peaceful garden path to join her soon-to-be-husband in their outdoor wedding ceremony. It is witnessing the miraculous birth of my grandchildren. It is running outside to catch the ice cream truck as it passes through my neighborhood—and having my brother and his family joining me, which happened just last week. Four adults standing in my driveway eagerly anticipating the thrill of eating ice cream from a truck, unprompted by children!

Admit it—we yearn to be moved by seeing things beyond our physical world filled with horrific news. We all want to feel profoundly alive, to feel like we’re a part of the grander scheme of things for the greater good. Yet many of us have lost this sense of curiosity. Moments that might have taken our breath away from our younger selves now may not move us at all.

If you are a leader in an organization, community, or family, what are ways you could reignite your sense of wonder? Perhaps you feel aware that you’ve lost it, or perhaps you still do experience it. What about those you lead—do you see glimpses of their capacity for awe? The greatest gift you can give to others is to help them navigate uncertain waters and enter that new world with them. You can choose to intentionally engage in conversations with your team about recapturing this magical sense. You and your team may be surprised by feeling powerfully impacted as you tap into this sense.

I hope Louie never loses his sense of wonder. I am not saying that he has this down, or even that he is cognizant of his tender sense of awe. Nevertheless, I envy his ability to stop and connect with creation and draw from that a sense of peace. Even on that night without sleep, unexpected and moving lessons were shown to me by my pup, Louie.

********

If you recall my blogs at the beginning of the year, I had a life-changing event take place. My goal then was to dance at my niece’s wedding…and dance we did!

 

When Louie Locks Eyes With You

Louie is one smart dog. I know most dog owners say that about their dogs, but truly, this little guy is amazing.

For instance, we’ll be taking a long walk, and typically Louie can walk quite a distance. But sometimes if he’s been on a long run with his friend and walker, Mary, he’ll let me know he’s tired. He’ll slow down, lower his head and look straight into my eyes as if to say, “Can we slow it down a bit?”

When I ask him if he wants to go back, he spins right around and trots back toward our home with a sudden burst of newfound energy.

What gives me pause as I reflect on this interchange is the way Louie locks eyes with me, which he does quite often. He doesn’t just look at me; he actually locks eyes with me and clearly communicates his message. Not a word passes between us (well, OK, I am doing all the talking), not a hand signal, not a sound, and yet he understands me and I understand him. Now, that is an amazing dog.

Other times as we walk, he just reaches up with his mouth to touch my hand. I look at him and, again, he locks eyes as if to say, “I just wanted you to know I’m still here.”

I started to take note of how often Louie locks eyes, not only with me but with others as well:

  • When he comes across an unfamiliar dog, he stares and locks eyes. Actually, this is a stare down and a challenge. I would not suggest you do that with others.
  • When someone enters my home, he locks eyes with my guests, searching to see if they are friend or foe. Usually, he warmly welcomes them into our home.
  • When I am in the kitchen cooking, he stares, hoping to lock eyes with me so that I will fall under his spell and hear his plea: “Give me a piece of the food you are preparing that smells so wonderful. That’s right, just drop it on the floor and I will love you forever.”
  • During my quiet time in the mornings, there is a sense of peace and calmness. I look over at Louie on his bed, and we lock eyes as if to say, “All is well!”
  • He locks eyes with my granddaughters Evi and Mea when they give him belly rubs.
  • I’m amazed how he locks eyes with the drivers in big black trucks whom he mistakenly believes are my son-in-law delivering Evi and Mea to my home.
  • And he locks eyes with my neighbors either while we’re walking or when he sees them stroll by our house. He will bark at them until they acknowledge him and he has an opportunity to make a connection with them.

I could go on about this uncanny way of locking eyes and communicating a wordless message.

My parents always taught me to lock eyes with people because they matter. And Louie has confirmed the need for this powerful leadership tool. Effective and successful leaders hone their relationship skills by practicing the small and seemingly insignificant behaviors that let others know they are valued and loved. Taking time to truly “see” people is an important leadership behavior.

Some time ago, I heard Bill Hybels, the founding pastor of Willow Creek Community Church in Illinois, say, “You cannot lock eyes with someone who does not matter to God.” That resonated with me then and still does today.

In our very superficial world where most of the people we pass have their faces plastered against their phones, I urge you to take a few minutes to truly lock eyes with someone and let them know they matter–you see them and they are valued. You just might make a significant difference in another person’s life and begin the process of truly finding common ground.

Louie loves to communicate with his eyes, and I am blessed to be the recipient of his “lock and load ’em up with love” big brown eyes. Yep, I feel loved!