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!

Is There A Dog In The House?

My adopted pup Louie and I had a phenomenal summer and hope you did as well. We were very busy and enjoyed many wonderful adventures with the alpha pups, Evi and Mea. We’re glad to be back, and while Louie may have been on summer break, we were never short on lessons. We are looking forward to sharing more of Louie’s wisdom (and shenanigans) with you over the next several months.

It has been four years almost to the day since I adopted Louie. The memory of our first few weeks together brings a smile to my face even now! We almost didn’t have a “first few weeks together” because of his challenging behaviors, but we pressed through.

When he first came to live with me, he would roam around my house, sniffing and whining. I wondered if he needed to go outside, so I would take him out, let him do his thing, and then bring him back in. A few minutes later, he would run upstairs and then downstairs, whining. “Again?” I thought to myself. “Does he have to go out again? What’s with this dog?” He whined constantly and seemed to be searching for something, anything, familiar to him.

Louie’s visit to the vet, Dr. Paul, for his first health checkup was interesting. Lou whined and shook with fear, but Dr. Paul compassionately continued. “He’s a pretty healthy pup. Any issues that you notice?”

“Yes! He whines! Incessantly! I’ll be working in my office and Louie will be checking out my home. He’ll pop into my office, look around, whine, and go back through the house, whining, whining, constantly whining.”

“Well,” said Dr. Paul, “don’t let him run loose through your home. When you’re not there, crate him, and when you are there, keep him close to you. But don’t let him run through your home.”

“Okay,” I thought, “that’s simple enough.” Because I work from home, I made a bed for him right under my desk and blocked the stairway to the upstairs level. I kept a close watch on him and interacted with him when I was able to do so. Amazingly, his whining and desire to roam around the house stopped, and the sighs and active dreams of a happy pup filled my office.

All Louie needed was a little watchful supervision. He needed to know I was close by. He needed to understand his boundaries and just how far he could safely explore without wandering too far away or getting lost.

Isn’t this just like those we lead? When they first engage with our organizations, we think we are doing them a favor by letting them “roam.” They spend their time “onboarding,” which is good. Yet, much of their time may be spent looking for anything that seems familiar to them, which could cause frustration. Like Louie, they just need a little watchful supervision. They need to know their leader is close by and available when needed. They need to understand their boundaries and that if they make a mistake, it’s OK because, hopefully, the problem is easy to rectify.

The fourth section of the LOUIE leadership model is “I” for investment. The time that I poured into helping Louie build trust and confidence and making him feel safe was an investment. It took some time, but the investment was worth every minute. Leader, you will never regret investing the necessary time and tools in your team to build trust and help them feel safe and to know they are valued.

As I type our first blog of this season, I have no idea where Louie is. He’s in my house but not under my feet. In fact, he is never under my feet these days. Many times, I stand by my front door, hands on my hips, loudly asking, “Is there a dog in the house?” No answer. “Any dog? Is there any dog in the house?” No answer. “Is there any dog in the house who would like to go for a walk?” With that, I hear the rumblings of four squatty little legs running to the front door from any one of his favorite places. He is either upstairs, looking out at his kingdom through the second story window, downstairs in his crate (voluntarily), or out on the deck, sunning himself.

I don’t recommend developing someone to “disappear” as Louie does. Based on The Ken Blanchard Companies’ Situational Leadership II program, you do want to invest the time to develop them to be a self-reliant achiever or peak performer. Louie has developed and progressed enough that he no longer needs my watchful supervision while we’re at home. He trusts that if anything changes, I’ll inform him. For now, he’s just fine—wherever he is!

DID SOMEONE SAY WALK?

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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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Louie And Self-Awareness

Who needs self-awareness, asks Louie.

Louie and I were looking forward to a very long walk. As we exited the garage, I ran into a neighbor and we started chatting. Louie patiently waited for us to finish with his typical signals: He lowered his head and looked at the person interrupting our time together with an under the brow look and a quick whine. I usually ignore him.

But after a few minutes, I noticed he was alert to something. His body language signaled an issue that I had no clue about. He stood up straight, his ears perked up, and he intently stared in the direction across the street. His awareness is a great tool when we are walking in the dark because he gives me a heads up that someone is walking toward us.

Since I wasn’t paying attention to these visible signs, he began “pointing” by holding his paw up in the air in the direction he wanted me to look. This is a comical stance because as his legs are so short, they barely move when he points; but he did his best.

Louie has a keen sense of discernment and can immediately tell the difference between friend or foe. By his stance, I could clearly tell a foe was approaching. But other than my neighbor, there was no human or canine in sight. Still, he continued to stare and point. Finally, after carefully canvassing the entire community within eyesight, I saw what he was signaling to me. Over the hill of a neighbor’s yard, the tip of a dog’s head was visible with his eyes barely showing. This was not just any dog, but his new nemesis, Oliver.

We quickly scooted across the street and headed out on our long walk to avoid any further distractions. As we walked, I thought of Louie’s incredible awareness and how it ties into his keen sense of discernment. But there is one thing he is lacking in the awareness arena that is key to being an effective relational leader: Self-awareness. Louie has little to no self-awareness; but as leaders, we must develop this essential behavior.

What is self-awareness and why is it such an elusive leadership behavior? According to Merriam-Webster’s definition, it is an awareness of one’s own personality or individuality. To this definition, I would add “flaws and all!” Few leaders practice self-awareness because there is a mindset that says, “Don’t be too introspective; keep moving ahead; don’t be too concerned about what other’s think of you.”

There is some validity in that advice, but as in everything, we need to balance that information. Here are a few characteristics of relational leaders who are self-aware:

  • They know themselves well.
  • They are always seeking and welcome feedback. They are not quick to make excuses or justifications when honest feedback is given.
  • They are aware of the traits that hold them back, and take action to address them.
  • They are conscious of their weaknesses and look to hire people who perform well in the areas where they lack expertise.
  • They are natural delegators.
  • They read people well (Louie does this also. Maybe he is more self-aware than I give him credit for).

Self-awareness is key to our emotional health and the relational health of our team. It is actually freeing when you recognize the areas that are holding you back and release them so that others can step up to the plate and excel in their strengths.

Ask others to assist you in becoming more self-aware. The growth potential for not only you as a leader but for your team as well is astonishing and rewarding by way of a healthy culture and employee engagement.

For now, I am still impressed with Louie’s awareness of his environment. His self-awareness probably extends to his level of insecurities and fears only…but it’s a start!

 

Monday, March 20, 2017, is Louie’s 5th birthday. My granddaughters decided his birthday should always be on the first day of spring because he is so full of life! Send him an email to wish him a happy birthday louie@di-advisors.com.

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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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Through lessons learned from a well-loved rescue pup, a leadership model emerges that makes the connection to relationships, revealing the small ways leaders can empower their teams every day.

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Will You Please Stop Whining

A passing thought drifted through my mind the other day: I will miss all the love and attention I have received over the past few weeks. But since I would rather hear “Wow, you’re doing so well” than “Oh, gee, sorry you’re still struggling with your recovery,” the thought passed quickly, never to return.

Because I’m ready to close the chapter on my accident and subsequent surgery, my passing thought is not what the subject line is referring to. This is a blog about my persnickety pup Louie and his ever-increasing need to whine. While I know he suffered trauma over the past couple of months along with me, his whining seems to have increased exponentially rather than to have subsided as I would have expected. I soon discovered his behavior has nothing to do with my injury. Instead, Louie is reacting to a new dog in the neighborhood.

This new dog represents everything Louie hates. The dog is a male, he’s bigger than Lou, and he’s . . . shhhh . . . not neutered. The last issue sends Louie into a tizzy even before we walk out the door. His hackles go up, and he puffs out his chest and huffs as he walks out. But then the incessant whining begins. And once he starts that, it’s tough to get him to stop.

One morning as we exited the garage, we made a sharp left turn out of our driveway and hurried away from where the dog lives as quickly as a girl with a cane can manage. Louie looked back, whined, and seemed disoriented. I tugged on his collar and gave a stern command, “Leave it,” which he immediately obeyed, but his memory is keen, and it quickly took him back to the dark side. I was hoping he would find a new smell to distract him.

Thanks to Zig our dog trainer, I learned a long time ago that Louie whines out of fear, so I have to step up and walk with confidence. That’s tough to do considering I’m still healing, but I did the best I could. Louie suspiciously eyed the cane, and then looked back at me with a face that said he was not convinced I could protect us both . . . and I didn’t blame him.

As our walk settled into a more relaxed pace, I reflected on why some people, like Louie, seem to whine so much. Do you have a few whiners on your team? It’s easy to get frustrated and dismiss them, but there is usually something deeper going on that we may never uncover unless we take the time to do so.

Fear is a big issue for Louie, which is why he whines. Fear is a big issue for people as well and could be the reason some folks whine. I have learned to counter Louie’s fear, not with my confidence but with love. Love is the first step of the LOUIE Leadership model:

  • Love is foundational to building trust and integrity for a personal or professional relationship to flourish. Without love and trust, our relationships are like fragile shells that have nothing inside of them and with the slightest amount of pressure, are easily shattered. Because of the love I have demonstrated for Louie on a regular basis, he has learned to trust me. [For more on Leading With Trust, see this article by my friend, Randy Conley, Vice President of Client Services & Trust Practice Leader for The Ken Blanchard Companies.]
  • A teammate may whine because the team is experiencing a daunting and uncomfortable change. Loving people through such change does not mean we coddle them. It means we shed light on the situation, we share the truth, and we press through together.
  • Love is more impactful than complaining to others that someone is a whiner.
  • Our society tends to misuse the word love. In fact, very few understand the strength and character it takes to love others. We have fluffy commercials about it, emoticons, and Facebook posts. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”
  • And who can argue with this verse: “Such love has no fear because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced His (God’s) perfect love.”

I doubt Louie will be able to love the new dog in the neighborhood anytime soon. In fact, I’m sure he is hoping the dog moves away. In the meantime, I’m working on loving Lou through this ordeal and rebuilding his confidence and trust in me so he knows I will never allow another dog to threaten him.

But Louie is a dog and as humans, we can choose to love. You can be the change agent for someone by removing fear of punishment or detrimental consequences and instilling love instead. Such love is the gateway to experiencing God’s perfect love and the cornerstone on which excellent and effective leadership is built.

NOTE: My friend T.D. Hughes knows how emphatic I am about leadership and love and recently sent me an article I thought you would enjoy as well. It’s Okay to Love Your Employees

**Speaking of love, Louie sends his love for a wonderful Valentine’s Day**

Picture compliments of Louie’s favorite place, Best Friend’s Pet Center

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You Can’t Make Me Something I Don’t Want to Be!

lou-mooooo
Louie was not having it. He planted all four paws on the floor and would not move an inch. His face let me know he was not pleased. At all.

“Louie,” I said sternly as I tried to squeeze his 40 pounds of muscle where it didn’t want to go. “This is only for two hours, if that. Surely you can oblige me.”

I sat back and stared at him, exasperated. For the last few Halloweens, I’ve donned a Cruella de Vil look and spent the evening with my grandchildren. This year I thought it would be fun to take Louie along in a Dalmatian outfit. Except there were no Dalmatian costumes for dogs. The closest thing I could find was a child’s costume for a spotted cow.

I had imagined how it would turn out. Louie might not share my enthusiasm for this creative costume. But he’d forget all about it when he set eyes on my granddaughters, Evi and Mea. He’d jump out of the car and happily trot with them along the street, greeting other children, trying to get a peek into their candy loot. I just knew Louie would have more fun than he could imagine if he could just push through wearing a silly cow outfit and look as much like a Dalmatian as he could.

I also imagined it would make a great blog lesson: all about pressing through uncomfortable situations to enjoy the outcome. Sounds good, right?

BEING SOMEONE WE’RE NOT

cruella-and-the-girls-oh-and-louBut none of that happened. Yes, Lou was happy to see Evi and Mea. He did enjoy it when other children came up to love on him. But he hated his costume and was mad at me the entire time. He wouldn’t even pose for a picture, and believe me, that’s not like him.

I finally took the costume off and let him be Louie.

Too often we find ourselves being something we don’t want to be. Maybe it’s of our own doing — because we think we need to fit in, and it requires being someone “different.” But often it’s because someone else expects us to be different than what we are.

Maybe it’s a negative thing: a boss requires us to be something based on their own insecurities. Or maybe it’s positive: a leader sees potential in us that we don’t see or can even imagine, and they want to coach us to be better.

No matter the reason, we resist because it is uncomfortable to be something we are not. We don’t want to don a costume and fake it.

CAN’T MAKE ANYONE CHANGE

It’s tough to balance being authentic and at the same time develop beyond mediocrity toward excellence. It can feel like donning a facade and “faking it till we make it.” What should leaders do to help folks grow?

If you’re in a position of leadership, you can suggest someone continue to develop. You can provide tools, mentoring, and ongoing training. But you can’t make them be something they don’t want to be. Each person is responsible for taking that first step to wanting to make significant changes in their lives.

Still, there are ways to influence those in whom you see potential. For example:

  • Watch to see whether the person shows an eagerness to learn and grow, i.e., reading books and asking for help.
  • Ask them where do they see themselves going? What is their end goal?
  • Share with them what potential you see in them.
  • Be sure your expectations align with their skillset and desires.
  • If their end goal and desires outweigh their skillset, place them on a realistic development plan and be clear about expectations.

GREATER THAN THEY IMAGINE

When Louie and I arrived back home, he was one tired pup. He slinked upstairs to his little bed to lay down. His expression told me he was still traumatized by the costume. But as I knelt down to give him a kiss, I looked into his eyes and saw a little spark.

It was a look that said, “If you are trying to make me be something different than who I am, at least make me a lion!”

And with that, he tucked his head into the fold of his front paw and fell fast asleep. No doubt, that evening he dreamt of being a lion.

louie-the-lion

Louie the lion…hear me roar!

 

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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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Territorial or Protective—What’s The Difference?

14444651_10210712824753587_1770244759302485472_oLouie and I have a very touchy subject to discuss, one that is also a continuing issue. Just when I think Louie is over this particular behavior, he reverts to square one, and we have to start training all over again.

Every time someone comes to my door, he has a very strong reaction; he starts barking, growling, and lowering his head—all signs that he is ready to attack, even though he has never attacked anyone. While this is great for all the intruders that come to my door, it can also be annoying since most are guests or delivering expected packages.

My guests will walk in, fully expecting an overly excited dog to greet them. I’ve worked with Louie to sit and remain seated until I give him a release signal. Only then can he approach the guest and smell the person. But the minute I do not enforce this training, he goes right back to his bad behavior.

Ever since I’ve known Louie, he has had only great experiences at my front door. I have welcomed everyone who has entered with hugs, and they love seeing Louie. He has never encountered someone breaking in, trying to kidnap me, or causing any commotion whatsoever at the front door. The people he encounters are simply entering my home.

I had to ask myself, what would cause this behavior? Did he have a bad past experience? Is he afraid someone will take him from his cushy environment? Does he not want me to give anyone else any attention? None of this made sense.

When I share about his behavior with others, everyone says he is just being protective, and I’m left again to ask why. Why does he think I need protection? And if I do need it, then shouldn’t he react the same way when we are on a walk and someone approaches me? But he doesn’t. He could care less. In fact, I am sure that if someone with ill intent approached me, he would run in the opposite direction as fast as he could. He doesn’t care if I pet other dogs, and all my neighbors can attest to this behavior—but only outside.

Inside my house, it’s a different story. Over the last three years, I have realized that Louie is indeed protecting his territory. Given his history, he has a profound need to feel safe and clearly does not want anyone disrupting that. While I appreciate that and want him to feel safe, it annoys me to fight this battle every time someone comes to my door. Being territorial is not very becoming and can turn many people away. I have to shake my head and wonder why dogs, especially Louie, behave that way. And then it hit me: I am the very same way. I am territorial.

For instance, I struggled with sharing the LOUIE leadership model in our last blog because of the thoughts that slowly began to creep into my mind and heart. Someone, I thought, will steal it and call it their own (no one ever does that in the training/consulting world, right?) or say they thought of it first. And so on. Such thoughts continued to color my excitement about developing and sharing the model and the Louie stories that accompanied each step. While I shake my head and ask Louie why he acts like he does, I had to ask myself the same question. What benefit is it to anyone if I am territorial and hoard a new idea?

It is humbling to realize that a behavior is very unbecoming. We humans are so often territorial when we think we have a great idea, a unique method, or a new creation. An old expression often brings me back to reality:

There is nothing new under the sun!

Louie’s behavior is typical of most dogs. For humans to want to protect their turf is normal. But just because it is “typical” or “normal” behavior does not mean it is acceptable. I shared the LOUIE model because it is a really great model and not mine to hoard. It was gifted to me by the one who blessed me with Louie—God. And I believe God wants me to give freely to others the gifts with which He has blessed me.

Now if I can just get Louie to see our home as a gift that we should share with others, we’d be so much better off! We have a lot of work to do!

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Louie had to say goodbye to his sweet cousin, Lily, last week! Our family will always have fond memories of her running around the pool, trying to keep everyone in line. In the last year, she finally realized our family was not easily corraled. Now you have thousand of pools to run around, Lil, and millions of angels to herd. You will be missed!

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Gia, Leah, Gina, Sara, Laura, and sweet Lily!

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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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