Pruning is Uncomfortable But Necessary     

 

IMG_1372“It’s that time of year, Lou,” I said as I put on his leash. Louie looked at me with those big brown eyes and his brows furrowed. And then he looked at the furminator in my hand and started walking in the opposite direction, as though that would change my mind about dealing with his shedding. “Better outside than on my wood floor. Let’s go!”

Outside we went, and I started to brush. Louie’s not fond of the furminator but it is a great little tool. The design of the edge allows the tool to push through the topcoat and remove the undercoat and loose hair without cutting or damaging Lou’s skin. Yet no matter how gentle I am, he often tries to reach around and “deter” me.

His shedding seems particularly bad this spring. I comb him every day and still get gobs of hair. But it is a necessary practice and while I know he feels better with less hair, this form of “pruning” is not his favorite activity.

I understand that! It pains me to look at my beautiful flower garden and see the various colors popping up and bursting with life, knowing I will need to prune them back soon. I’ve tested the pruning method in my own garden and while it seems strange to pluck away flowers, the process gets rid of unhealthy portions of the plant and allows for more robust growth. My flower garden is always beautiful mid summer so it is well worth the pain of pruning and the patience it takes to see the results.

As Louie and I wind down season two of our blog, we’ve had to take a look at pruning some things out of our lives as well. Sometimes that involves relationships that have grown stagnant or unhealthy.

By now you know my heart and my business are all about relationships. To be successful, one must cultivate healthy and genuine relationships. It is difficult but wise to recognize when it is time to prune relationships:

  • Release people who are negative. Beware of those who continually gossip. They will drag you down and drain the energy from the relationship.
  • Be a good steward of your time spent with others. There are only so many hours in a day, and we only have so much energy. Think about who brings you joy? With whom can you invest time that will result in growth? Who might you need to serve?
  • Recognize one-sided relationships and let them go. While I am all about serving others, there are people who take advantage of you or your sphere of influence. Be discerning about relationships like this that may need pruning.
  • Cultivate your relationship with God. In fact, start there and the difficult process of pruning other relationships can be done with grace and wisdom. You don’t know what a relationship with God could even begin to look like? Ask me! That’s a discussion that is well worth our time.

While it is not easy to prune relationships, it is sometimes necessary for you and for them to experience greater growth. Lou’s shedding is winding down and he still hates the furminator but he is getting better about that process.

To celebrate Louie’s ability to be “pruned,” we are taking the summer off from blogging to focus on relationships, other writing projects, two adorable grandbabies, family and my clients with whom I truly enjoy spending time (sorry, you folks are NOT on my pruning list 🙂 )!

We’ll see you in the Fall, and we hope you enjoy some relaxing time with genuine, healthy relationships!

Lou is planning to hang out with his alpha pups and his friends this summer. Here he is with his buddy Mick.

They have the entire back yard to run around in this summer, those little boys!

The Boys

Sunrise, Sunset

Puppy Louie
What Louie probably looked like as a baby!

Louie is all boy and still very much a puppy, and sometimes that’s exasperating! I try to burn off some of his energy by taking long walks, visiting dog parks, and having him run around the backyard with his buddy, Mick. But even in the middle of a nap, if Evi and Mea show up at the door, he exudes tons of energy and delivers overly excited sloppy kisses.

Recently while on a walk, Lou stopped to burrow his nose in the ground, hoping to find the mole he knew was near by. I waited, watched and finally gave him a tug to resume walking but he stubbornly refused and kept digging. Finally he jumped up, waged his tail and ran off to find another molehill, pulling me along. I rolled my eyes and muttered under my breath, “When is this dog going to grow up and get out of this puppy stage?”

I immediately gasped. There it was! The tendency to hurry up life. Or more specifically, my tendency to want to hurry Louie’s maturity. Yet I know Lou is quickly approaching adolescence and though it may seem like years away, he will be a senior dog before I know it. We kept walking, Louie by my side with his usual upbeat prance, bright eyes and tongue hanging out the side of his mouth, oblivious to my thoughts of him passing through life so quickly.

Why do we try to speed up our lives? I remember cradling Marisa for her early morning feedings when she was a baby. I would look out my bedroom window as the neighborhood children waited for the school bus. Weary from sleeplessness, I thought to myself, “She will never get to that age. I will always be rocking this baby, feeding her, changing her diapers.” And now I stare into the eyes of her children and wonder where time went. Many times while talking to my six-year-old granddaughter, if I just blink, I swear I am talking to my six-year-old daughter.

Though my father has been gone for 30 years, I have fond memories of him singing. He was a fabulous singer, although he kept his day job of being a Cincinnati Police Officer. He used to sing a song from Fiddler on the Roof titled Sunrise, Sunset. A few of the words were:

Is this the little girl I carried? Is this the little boy at play?

I don’t remember growing older, when did they?

When did she get to be a beauty? When did he grow to be so tall?

Wasn’t it yesterday when they were small?

Sunrise, sunset,

Swiftly flow the days.

Seedlings turn overnight to sunflowers,

Blossoming even as we gaze.

Sunrise, sunset,

Swiftly fly the years,

One season following another,

Laden with happiness and tears.

As my career became increasingly more demanding, I struggled to keep my focus centered on raising Marisa. Life was at a frantic pace then and my mom would always say, “Danise, you need to stop and smell the roses.” I could never understand why anyone would ever want to stop anything much less stop to smell roses. But she was right. Life was flying by and not just mine but my child’s, my family’s and my friend’s.

I did eventually listen to my mom and was very intentional about not rushing through life. I’ve learned to stop, breath, and enjoy the moments with my daughter, family, friends, and now of course, Louie. While each stage may be but a wisp, I also believe each stage gets better because of lessons learned and deepening relationships. With each sunrise and sunset, the years swiftly fly by. One season following another, laden with happiness and tears. I enjoyed every bit of Marisa’s life from the minute she was born. But the stage I am in right now with her is the best stage yet.

This is the season when parents watch their children graduate, get married or prepare for a life transition. It is also the time we reflect on where the time went. As for Louie, I cherish each crazy moment of life with him from digging through molehills, to getting excited to see his alpha pups to whining as we walk down the street because his friends, or anyone else for that matter, are out to see him. I know it will be all too soon that I will be carrying him up and down the steps as I did Cece, Bree and Buffy. I know before long I will be watching my grandchildren walk the aisle to receive their diplomas. I know soon I will be saying final farewells to friends at a quicker rate than when I was younger.

For this reason, I pray you will always enjoy life to the fullest, even as you wonder where time has gone. For me, I am grateful for life and have no doubt that the best is yet to come!

Stop and smell the flowers, Lou!
Stop and smell the flowers, Lou!

To all the graduates this season-we wish you well

on your exciting journey!

“Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life?

You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” James 4:14

Expectations Vs. Reality

Louie and I took a long walk the other day and ran into our neighbor, Cindy, and her dog, Eve. Cindy invited us into their home to let the dogs play and expend some energy. When we walked in, Eve expected a treat because that’s what they do after she’s been on a walk. So Louie joined her in expecting a treat and both dogs sat perfectly still anticipating their reward.

When Cindy accidentally dropped a dog biscuit on the floor, Louie immediately snatched it and gulped it down. He sat back down again next to Eve and waited for his treat. Cindy knows “Louie speak” and said, “Lou, you already had your treat.”

Eve and Louie
Louie is enthralled with Eve’s beauty and strength! (He’s actually growling at her for attention).

Louie was shocked and replied back, “That wasn’t a treat! That was an accident; you dropped it on the floor and I picked it up. See me properly sitting here? I should get a treat because I’m sitting, just as I have been trained!”

“Sorry, Lou!” Cindy replied. I’m not sure, but later I think Cindy ended up giving him a treat because she can’t resist his big brown eyes. But the initial look on his face when reality set in was classic.

Facing the difference between our expectations and reality is a tough lesson for all of us. We’ve experienced this at Christmas. In our minds, we picture a Norman Rockwell image of a beautiful Christmas tree, a warm, crackling fire in the background, hot chocolate with a perfect dollop of whip cream, and presents stacked up to the ceiling. In reality, it’s rarely like that. While I wanted to believe in Santa forever—dreamer that I am—I had to face the reality that Santa did not exist when I found the box that held my beloved Thumbelina doll in our TV room later on Christmas day.

We’ve all had expectations that a new job would turn out wonderfully, but a year later we must face the reality that it’s not at all what we expected.

So are we setting ourselves up for disappointment by setting our expectations too high? And if so, does that mean we are settling for less and not even trying to reach a higher bar?

Leaders run into this issue all the time with employees, and we also deal with these issues personally. I think setting high expectations is a good thing but several things need to be in place to ensure we are not setting ourselves or anyone else up for failure:

  1. Communication is key: I can’t express enough in this blog or in any talk I give that communication is the key to genuine, authentic relationships. It is very important that we clearly communicate our expectations and in turn, listen to what barriers may get in the way of achieving those expectations. Often we have a picture in mind of what the finished product should look like but we fail to communicate that to others. Then when our expectations are not met, we blame others. In our personal lives, it is even more profound, and can be more costly.
  1. Make sure the expectations align with everyone’s values. Though this may come up while you are engaged in discussions around barriers, it may take additional questioning and going deeper. Many times our struggles are not always obvious in an initial conversation until we’ve had time to reflect on what is expected of us. When we start to feel conflicted, it may be because it doesn’t align with our values or focus. Additional conversation needs to take place, otherwise it may happen in an unproductive, damaging and explosive conversation.
  1. Be realistic: While stretching beyond ourselves is an excellent way to grow, we don’t want to stretch so much that people snap. Be realistic about expectations and setting goals. Give clear timelines and any additional assistance needed to achieve the goals.

The components above apply personally as well. How many times are we disappointed because someone did not give us what we were hoping for? I overheard Louie and his gal pal, Eve, having an interesting conversation around expectations. See if this sounds familiar:

“Happy birthday, Lou!”

“Oh thanks, Eve” he said as he looked behind her for a dog biscuit. When he didn’t see anything else, he looked forlorn.

“What’s wrong?” asked Eve.

“Oh nothing!” sighed Louie.

“Were you expecting something else?”

“No, of course not. You remembering my birthday is more than enough.” Louie feigned a smile, then sighed. “Well, okay, yes, I was hoping for a little more; a treat or something, you know.”

“Oh, no…I didn’t know. You should have said something.”

“Well, if I said something, it would ruin the surprise.”

“What surprise?”

“The surprise I was expecting,” exclaimed Louie.

“Well, how do I know what you are expecting if you don’t tell me what you’re expecting?”

“Because you should just know.”

Oh Louie! The harsh reality that others will not always meet our expectations is a tough lesson to learn. I suggest we not get so fixed on our expectations that we miss the possibility of far exceeding what our minds are capable of imagining. I believe it is good to dream, reach and imagine possibilities for ourselves—just be clear on what you expect of others.

What Is It About Alpha Girls, Lou?

Louie loves his alpha girls, and there are several in this neighborhood. There’s Kaki, who nudges her nose against Lou to let him know she loves him and then completely ignores him. There’s Eve, who has no problem with letting Louie know she has had enough of playtime. Ellie throws her paws around him and loves to run and play. And then there’s Snickers, who wants nothing to do with him.

I am the alpha of the alpha girls in Louie’s world, and although there are times when Lou tries to exercise his independence, he is absolutely in love with me—and I with him.

My question is twofold. What is it about alpha girls that makes them so alpha? And what is it about them that has Louie so Alpha Evienthralled?

First, I’m not sure many women would deem themselves alpha girls. Yet many are, and although this is usually a good thing, it can sometimes be devastating. Over the span of my career, I have been blessed to know many strong women and have noticed an interesting phenomenon: few strong women, myself included, have truly achieved balance. I’m not talking about work–life balance, or “integration”; it goes beyond that. There always seems to be something off-kilter that we as women want to straighten out or bring into balance, yet it eludes us.

But on this journey, if we remain diligent, there is a sweet spot that allows us to walk in harmonious balance: strength without being pushy, boldness without overpowering others, and humility without appearing weak. Every woman’s quest for that sweet spot leads her on a journey of struggle and change, which can be difficult and yet incredibly freeing and rewarding.

So many times we stop just short of finding this sweet spot. A driving force takes over, and we feel that if we don’t propel ourselves to the top, running over others along the way, then we simply will not survive. That’s the lie many women today have bought into. I believe the antidote to being pushy, rude, and weak is simply love, joy, and peace.

  • It takes strength to love others. Love is the ultimate test of strength. This is the deepest desire of every being, human and pets. When you truly love other people, you care more about them than you do about yourself. It is nearly impossible to be pushy with them. Instead, you care more about serving
  • When we think of boldness, we think of someone blasting on the scene, taking a stand, and being brave. Tip that boldness over the edge a bit, and you end up running over others and being rude. Joy is our elated response to experiences of life, even when life is tough. It is our response and deep satisfaction when we are able to serve others, not as an obligation but because our heart prompts us to do so. When we have true joy in our heart, rudeness cannot emerge.
  • Humility is the toughest characteristic to maintain, but once it is, inner peace is achieved. And when you’re at peace, it doesn’t matter if someone thinks you are weak.

I would like to see more women strive to balance strength, boldness, and humility by honing the character strengths of love, joy, and peace. We can do it!

As for why Louie loves alpha girls—they challenge him to be strong, brave (or bold), and fun (which equates to inner peace in Louie’s world). One of his favorite alphas was his gal pal Ali. When she was outside, he could see her all the way down the street and would whine and pull to get a chance to dance around the front yard with her. She loved to play rough with Louie. He learned a little trick; he could stand just far enough away that her leash wouldn’t allow her to reach him. His ears would go back, and he was on alert. She would stretch to get closer to him. Then, he would ease closer, and the dance would begin. He’d back up and then move closer—they truly enjoyed playing together.

Alpha Ali
Alpha Ali

Over the winter Ali slowed down quite a bit. When they were able to get outside, Ali would display spurts of energy but would let Louie move outside her range without any challenge. Then one day, Ali’s mom tearfully shared that Ali was no longer with us. This broke our hearts because she was so full of life and had been a big part of our community for many years.

Now, each time we pass her home, Louie looks to see if she’s outside and then whines. He looks at the front door to see if she is watching with her favorite toy in her mouth—but no Ali. He even checks her yard for any recent smells. It’s tough losing your best-ever alpha girl, but the love Ali gave to Louie and anyone she came in contact with was truly a gift. Being a great alpha girl, she challenged Louie to be a better, stronger, and more playful dog, and we are forever thankful.

Strive to walk in the balance of strength, boldness, and humility. Choose love, joy, and peace. In this sweet spot, you will impact others’ lives for the better, thereby truly making a difference in our world.

NEW email sig

 

Contact: danise@di-advisors.com

Louie, This Is A Football!

I found this post, generated by Louie DiStasi’s Facebook page, last week. He shared how he signed me up for obedience class. Apparently, I am a control freak and a know it all. He was hoping this class would help me.

FB Post LouieAt first I thought it was funny, but then realized Louie just doesn’t understand that he still needs help with many issues. So based on Zig’s advice, I enrolled Louie in Queen City Dog Training Club. I did so because if all goes well, perhaps he can get into agility training at some point.

I filled out the online form and was hoping for an opportunity to share more detail on Louie’s issues, but that would have to wait. I received a call requesting that I attend the first class alone, without Louie. This was reminiscent of when the principal would come to my grade school classroom requesting my presence in her office ASAP. That happened more than I care to admit. I wondered why I needed to go to obedience training without Louie. I immediately started down the path of, “I am not the one with the issues. He needs to get started as soon as possible and I should not waste any time learning the rules of the game.”

But off I went to the class with about 12 other dog owners. As we filled out our papers, I finally saw my opportunity to share more about Louie. There was a very small space on the paper to express my concerns which I completely filled and added additional comments within the side margins. But my anxiety level increased as I listened to others talk about their dogs.

I let out a long sigh as I pictured Louie in the training ring with other dogs who were much bigger and had even more problems than Lou. I wasn’t sure I was up for my one night a week session with crazy Louie who will no doubt be crazier with several other dogs with similar or worse issues. What was I thinking? It is OBEDIENCE class. Perfect dogs do not attend obedience class. It is mostly dogs who have issues…like Louie! And the trainer made it clear; this is not a time of socialization, this is for obedience. Oh boy—here we go!

As stressful as the first session was, the obedience class provided ample opportunity for me to learn a few leadership lessons:

  • First, when I returned home, I practiced the basics with Louie using his favorite treat—mozzarella cheese. He did really well. I was reminded of one of my favorite lines by Vince Lombardi, “Gentlemen, this is a football!” I realized that I need to constantly reinforce the fundamentals with Louie.
  • The next day, when my daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren were visiting, Louie was scrounging around for crumbs. I made him sit on his bed by the window and wait until we were done eating. As I walked into the kitchen, he slowly slipped away from his bed and quietly made his way back to my family. I had to make him go back and sit on his bed several times. Some lessons must be taught repeatedly!
  • And finally, as I was walking Louie with one of his girlfriends, Allie, her mom kindly suggested I be a stronger leader to Louie. She was absolutely correct. And Zig reminded me of that as well in that Louie is a control freak and needs to know I am in charge. This is another one of those leadership lessons I’m still learning – the need to continually establish my authority with Louie.

Honestly, I sometimes grow weary of leading anyone or being in charge of anything, much less a dog who should obey my every command. But what a delight when I return to the basics with Lou, and he immediately gets it. Seeing his response encourages me to continue to drill the fundamentals and prepare for the next level. It is not easy and, at times, it is not fun. However, it is incredibly rewarding. The same holds true for parents and for leaders in the workplace. As a leader, I am committed to press through once again and each level gets easier with time.

Louie’s post was correct; this obedience class is as much for me as it is for Louie. By the time you read this, Lou and I will have been through our first class together and most likely will have survived and be ready for class two. As for the comment about me being a control freak and a know it all? Let’s just say Louie continually provides good fodder for our blog!

IMG_0585

 

e-mail_signature-2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Visit our website for more information or to contact us: DiStasi Advisors, llc

Leaders Encourage Others To Dream

One chilly Saturday afternoon, Louie and I were enjoying our favorite things – I was writing, and Louie was napping. As I watched Louie, I noticed he was dreaming. But this was not his usual dream where his legs twitch, and I shake him awake. Instead, his legs were moving in slow motion – almost like he was running gracefully. And rather than his usual abbreviated breaths, he breathed deeply and looked like he was smiling. I watched for several minutes as he kept “running.” For a brief moment, I was standing on the sideline watching my pup with a long sleek body and long stretched out legs running gracefully around the track as I yelled his name while he neared the finish line. I could hear the theme from Chariots of Fire playing in the background. I dared not wake him because he clearly was enjoying the dream.

This reminded me of another runner named Louie, whom I recently read about—Louie Zamperini. You’ve perhaps seen the recent movie or at least heard about his story depicted in Unbroken. I read the book first because I think my imagination is better than a Hollywood replication. Though I have yet to see the movie, I understand it is excellent. Louie began his life with very little hope. He was a petty thief and well on his way to a dead-end life of crime. But his older brother saw him run and realized that running might be Louie’s way out of his circumstances. Louie ultimately competed in the Olympics held in Munich. He set his sights on the next Olympic Games, determined to bring home the gold medal. But all that changed when WWII broke out. It was during those dark days of first being lost at sea for more than a month and then held prisoner by the Japanese that he began to dream. His dreams actually kept him alive: he remembered what it was like to run and win a race; he dreamed about the next Olympics; he recalled the scent and flavor of his mother’s pasta; and he encouraged his fellow prisoners to dream as well.

The human spirit cannot be easily broken, but at times it takes something beyond our own capabilities to dream what may seem impossible. As we begin a new year with a clean slate, we may be tempted to be discouraged by dreams that started with a “what if” and faded into a “maybe someday.” We must renew our passions and revisit our dreams if we want them fulfilled.

I dreamt long ago of being a writer. In fact, in 7th grade I gave my sister a book of poems only to take them back because I wanted to improve upon them. I’ve written many stories and worked on projects in my younger days and realized my dream of writing a book could come true. So I started to take the steps to learn how to write well. And as in any story, there’s a villain! A dream slayer; someone who does not want you to realize your dream. They mean well, I suppose. My dream slayer was someone who was incredibly critical of many things, but especially my writing. I am not talking about constructive feedback—we all need that in our lives. This person looked for ways to criticize my writing and then let everyone else know about a mistake I made.

Another dream slayer is our own self-doubt. As the dream begins to formulate and take shape, our minds tell us, “You could never do that,” or “You’re not that good; no one wants to read your writing.” But we have the power to change our thoughts and do away with doubt altogether.

I’ve also been blessed by people who cast vision for me; those who planted the seeds of a dream before I even saw it. They recognized a talent and passion and encouraged me to follow that dream. One of those people was Ken Blanchard, who loved my book ideas, and eventually endorsed them. I am so thankful he encouraged me to take the next step in realizing my dream. Thankfully, the people who have encouraged my dreams outnumber the ones who have tried to slay them. And similar to Eric Liddell when he referred to running in his famous quote from Chariots of Fire, I truly believe I feel God’s pleasure when I write.

As leaders, we must be intentional about seeing the talent and passion in others and encourage them to pursue their dreams. Louie Zamperini held onto his dreams and had hope for a better day. That was all he could hold on to, and it helped him survive grueling, inhumane circumstances. We all need to dream and reach beyond our capabilities as it says in one of my favorite verses, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” Beware of the dream slayers on your journey. They will disappear as you take the next action step in realizing your dream.

My little Louie finally woke up from his afternoon nap. As his tongue rolled out of his mouth, punctuating a huge yawn, he looked at his paws stretched out in front of him. He looked up at me as if to say, “Mom, I think my legs are just a bit longer, don’t you?”

I just shook my head and smiled.

e-mail_signature-2

Life Includes Necessary Endings

IMG_0349I love this time of year for many reasons. It is a wonderful time to celebrate life, enjoy relationships and look forward to a new year, which could mean a new “do over” if we felt the past year was tough. I especially enjoy taking time to reflect on what I would change and how I will strive to be a better person next year.

Added in the mix this year is my love for my crazy dog, Louie! This time last year, we had been together for a couple months and were still figuring each other out. Now, I look at him and wonder what his life would have been like had we not met. We still have a lot of work to do together, but I believe he is so much better off today than he was this time last year.

I am also reminded of the relationships I no longer have. Louie would not be with me if I still had my sweet little Bichon, Cece. And what would life be like if my mom and dad were still alive to see MY grandchildren? Both my parents have been gone 20+ years, yet I still miss them and remember clearly the Christmases we shared.

Our little Cape Cod home nestled in a suburban cul-de-sac brimmed with energy for weeks, beginning with Christmas Eve. We would have a large celebratory meal and all eight of us would pile into the Edsel to go midnight mass. Afterwards, family and friends would come to our home while we kids were hustled off to bed so we wouldn’t “delay” Santa.

We would awake predawn and run down the stairs. We realize now that our parents stayed up all night putting toys and bikes together to surprise us. With six children and a father who was an officer for Cincinnati Police Department, that was a magical feat in itself. But surprise us, they did. And there was always a really “big” gift that would take our breath away at the end of our wrapping paper frenzy. Even our faithful dog, Smokie, would join in on the fun discovering the dog treats my mom wrapped for him to uncover.

More family and friends would come over for a brunch that would last for hours. Once again, we’d pile in the car and head to our grandparents’ home for another large meal and fun times. We sometimes stopped at an uncle’s home and once we kids called it a night, there were even more people who would come and visit with mom and dad.

I can’t imagine how they did it all, but my mom and dad enjoyed life to the fullest, and I will always appreciate that about them. I honor their memories by celebrating Christmas with the same vigor, love, laughter and life.

Sadly, life includes necessary endings. Saying goodbye to my parents, experiencing other tragic losses too painful to mention, and bidding farewell to one too many furbabies I’ve carried in my arms means I have closed the chapter on a part of my life but am opening a door on another. Louie represents one more chapter in my life, and he brings me incredible joy. And each chapter just keeps getting better, as I’ve shared with my daughter Marisa. I’ve enjoyed every stage of her life, but I believe this stage is the best so far!

As we close out this year, I am thankful for the life with which God has blessed me. I am reminded of the life God breathed into our world through Jesus Christ and the necessary ending he allowed so that we may have eternal life and have it abundantly. I stand amazed at the humble beginnings of a King and the necessary ending of a humble servant just so you and I can live life to the fullest. Don’t let searching for things that can’t last cause you to miss that remarkable miracle.

I pray you and your family have a blessed Christmas and a wonderful New Year. Louie and I will see you in 2015.

Our gift to you: The Best Stage In Life!

I’m Not Jumping Through Hoops Anymore!

Agiligty PicI’ve noticed Louie has an odd habit when we walk. He walks on the street curb like he is walking on a balance beam. And he’s quite good! In fact, many times he will run on the curb and not miss a beat. I joked with our trainer, Zig, that we should get Louie into agility training. Zig kindly reminded me that Louie would need more obedience training before he could handle an agility class.

It was wise advice, but curiosity got the better of me. I looked into a place that has an easy-to-use obstacle course where dogs chase a lead through tunnels and over bars, and they don’t need prior training. So my six-year-old granddaughter, Evi, joined Louie and I as we checked out this fun adventure.

It was obvious from the start that Louie would have nothing to do with chasing a silly lead on a wire aimed at getting him to jump or run. I’m sure if the lead had a treat on it, he might have been persuaded, but that was not part of the plan. So Evi jumped into the ring and started running with him, and the two of them had a blast. That lasted one cycle until his attention went elsewhere. Evi tried to get him to chase her, but Louie was done. He clearly was not going to jump through any more hoops and in fact, desperately tried to find a way to escape.

And escape he did. He found a small opening in the fence and took off running through the outside area that didn’t appear to be enclosed. Zig told me never to chase Louie if he gets loose because he’ll think it’s a game. But I was afraid of what could happen if he ran into the busy street. As Louie’s ears flapped in the wind and his tongue hung out to the side, the chase was on. I jumped over a small fence and ran at high speed to tackle him and bring him safely back into the ring. I did all this while yelling at Evi to stay put because I didn’t want to worry about her as well. But she was too enthralled by the sight of my running and jumping that she wasn’t going anywhere.

As we were driving home, I asked Louie, “Why do you run away from me? Do you realize if you run away I will not be behind you? You’ll be lost! Don’t you remember what it was like being on the streets all alone?” Evi chimed in with a sad face, “Yeah, Louie, that was scary. Don’t ever do that again!” I smiled as I looked at my pup through the rear view mirror, his tongue still hanging out and a big smile on his face as though he had achieved a major accomplishment. But I said, “I can’t blame you, Lou! I don’t like to jump through hoops either.” Louie sat regally staring out the window as we drove in silence toward home.

As I reflected on that incident, I realized that Louie was not going to jump through hoops or run around a path and, like most humans, he looked for the quickest escape route. I was reminded of an organization I once worked with that was one of the most toxic cultures I had ever experienced because the leader expected the employees to jump through hoops on a continual basis. What made it so toxic was that the image portrayed to the public was completely different than that of the actual culture. Every employee walked on eggshells out of fear of the employer and they knew that if they spoke the truth they could be out of a job.

Over the years, I have seen and heard about many toxic workplaces. How do you know when a culture is toxic and a leader is self-serving? It is not so easy to determine just by observing. It takes experiencing the culture and often, by the time the determination is made, the damage is done. But here are some signs:

  • People are afraid to be themselves and honest conversations are a rarity.
  • The leader works hard at displaying a perfect image outside the organization and “talks” about how great the culture is.
  • There is a revolving door of employees (Turnover numbers can be masked).
  • There is a pattern of disgruntled employees and broken relationships.
  • The team picture changes every year because the team is totally different every year.
  • When employees leave, relationships end (heaven forbid should the outside world truly know what’s going on inside)
  • Employees are nervous and stop trying to please the leader because they know nothing ever will.
  • Words of affirmation are rarely given.
  • The leader only shares stories that cast him or her in a positive light.
  • There are small blips of successes here and there but over all, growth is stagnant.
  • They cultivate an image to hide their insecurities and fears.
  • A self-serving leader reads this list and says, “Thank goodness I’m nothing like that.”
  • The servant leader reads this list and says, “But for the grace of God, there go I!”

I could go on, but I’m sure you get the picture. There are many wonderful leaders who have a servant’s heart, and care more for others than themselves. And because they are servant leaders, their businesses continue to enjoy sustainable growth, and employees are recognized for their part in the success. Their employees enjoy going to work in the morning instead of getting that knotted feeling every Sunday evening because of what they have to face on Monday. The best servant leaders are those who have removed their egos, are authentic and focused on others . Be intentional about being a servant leader.

As for Louie…well, we’ll work on his agility. I believe Zig was right that he needs a bit more obedience training. Ok, he needs MUCH more obedience training!

VIDEO: The Great Escape!