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

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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.

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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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