I’ve noticed lately I no longer enjoy my walks with my rescue pup, Louie. It saddens me to share that publicly, but it is the truth—a truth I had to take time to explore and understand.
I love to walk because I enjoy the outdoors and because it’s an excellent way for me to exercise. I also enjoy seeing my neighbors and getting a chance to catch up with them.
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I’ve noticed something a bit different lately about Louie, my rescue pup. He really enjoys it when we walk side by side during our walks. What’s different about that, you might ask?
He’s always enjoyed our time together and is usually all over the place when we walk. To get him to walk right next to me (as we’ve been taught during dog training), I usually have to make him heel. What’s different now is that he heels without me giving the command. Now he walks right next to me, many times for the entire walk, enjoying every step. It’s like we’re BFFs just hanging out. Well, maybe we are, but this change in our walks together gives me paws to think about leadership.
Louie walks next to me with confidence and joy because I, his leader, am walking with confidence and joy. This time last year I was still recuperating from a terrible accident. And, needless to say, this winter, though I was out walking, I walked with extreme caution. Now that the weather is turning warmer, there’s a bit more spring in my step and I am back to walking confidently and fast. And Louie is reaping the benefits.
When I say, “Leader, you must walk with confidence,” it may conjure up a lot of different thoughts and feelings about leadership. Many leaders walk with confidence because of pride issues, others put on airs and act like they’re confident. I believe the leaders who truly are confident provide a safe place for employees to flourish. Those leaders are confident not in their own abilities but in the abilities and strengths of those they lead. They can walk with confidence because they have a team around them they believe in, one they have encouraged and affirmed, and they work well together.
Walking with confidence is not about you, it is about those you lead, those you’ve empowered to be who they were created to be. It’s not about you puffing yourself up, it’s about those who choose to follow you and the confidence they have in you to be an excellent leader. Take the challenge and walk with confidence, but be sure it is because of the outward focus you have on the strengths and skills of others on your team.
As for Louie, well, I’m pretty sure if he were writing this it would be all about his confidence and how he walks next to me to make sure I am protected. Way to go, Louie! Such a good boy!
Louie had to say goodbye to his cousin, Perry, a couple of weeks ago. We’re so glad we had time to cuddle that sweet boy the week before. Mark, Agnes, Bernadette and Christian and all the DiStasi kids will miss him.
In the last Louie’s Leadership blog, I shared the episode of Louie, my adopted pup, having surgery to remove a growth on his paw. It was a pretty quick decision, with some uncertainty about what the growth was and how he would handle the recuperation period.
He survived the surgery well, and the growth was a papilloma, a wart. The biggest issue we had was keeping him away from the stitches. Louie is like Houdini; he can get out of any bandage or covering that I put on him to prevent him from chewing on his paw. I was amazed at how many times I found his bandage on the floor somewhere.
We came home with a very nice, pliable, see-through cone that was to be placed over his head to keep him from chewing his stitches. I was hesitant to use it because of the look he gave me when I tried to put it on him. First, it was a look of defiance (gee, I’ve never seen that one before), and then he’d look as though I was trying to kill him. And finally, I’d get the puppy dog big brown eyes that captured my heart the very first time I met him.
I attached his collar and slid the cone over his head, stating in a serious, parental tone, “This is for your own good, buddy.” He hated it! And he was mad at me. He decided the best thing he could do was trot out of the room and go to his happy place to look out the window and be away from me. Except he ran into the doorframe and stopped. He looked back at me with a look of “Are you kidding me?” Then he set himself back on track, maneuvered the cone to clear the doorframe, and walked out of the room.
Next, he hit the doorframe going into the room with a view. Again, he stopped, looked back at me, and shook his head. Again, he set himself back on track and maneuvered the cone so he could walk into the room, clearing the doorframe. I could hear him trying to jump up on the seat to look out the window, but because the cone got in the way, he fell back down. He tried again, missed again, and fell back down.
I resisted the urge to jump in and help. I knew he could do it; he just needed to adjust himself a bit to clear the seat. And so he did, finally, and then positioned himself as close to the window as possible so that everyone could see him and would feel sorry for him. And they did.
I learned a few valuable leadership lessons thanks to the cone of shame:
Louie soaked in the attention for as long as he could. As time passed and his stitches were removed, I realized the overarching lesson of this entire experience. While we must take time to heal from some of life’s tough lessons, deep down inside, we know we can adjust and adapt. And in that perseverance, we may actually learn to enjoy life more.
Thank you, Eastside Rotary, for inviting us to speak to your fabulous members!
Every year, March 20, we celebrate Louie! While we’re not sure of his actual birthday, we decided the first day of spring was a perfect day to celebrate his new life! Louie is somewhere between 5-6 years of age. Celebrate with us and wish this little guy a happy birthday! Thank you!
Louie, my rescue pup, and I have been making our rounds, speaking to various groups and visiting businesses and organizations. He is indeed a transformed dog and loves the accolades he receives as we share the story of our journey together.
A few weeks back, my granddaughter, Evi, noticed a growth on Louie’s right rear paw. We took him to King’s Veterinary Hospital to visit Dr. Paul LaCompte. He promptly diagnosed the wart on Louie’s paw pad as a possible sign of the papillomavirus and told us to watch it for a couple of weeks. It looked like it would have naturally fallen off, except that the nail on an adjacent toe seemed to increasingly irritate the possible wart.
One Sunday, I noticed the condition seemed to be worsening, so I bandaged it and hoped Louie would be okay until we could get in to see Dr. Paul the following day. As we took a short walk, we stopped to chat with a neighbor and, genuinely concerned for Louie, she asked about the bandage. I explained what was going on and said that we would try to see the vet the next day.
She leaned over, petted Lou, and said, sweetly but with a sad face, “Awww, Louie. I’m so sorry. You’re not that perfect little boy now.” I responded, “And he’s thinking, ‘You would never know I was not perfect if my mom hadn’t put on this stinkin’ bandage.’” We laughed, and Louie and I continued with our walk.
Dr. Paul and his team did see Louie that Monday and suggested surgery that day. They promptly removed the growth and sent it off for a pathology report. As usual, they did a fantastic job; they doted on him, stitched him up, and instructed me on his care for the next couple of weeks. He walked a little slower but was happy to go home that same evening.
When we arrived home, I took Louie out for a short stroll. As we walked, I watched him limp a bit, then pick up his stitched leg to run on three legs, and then, every so often, do a skip. Reflecting on the comment my neighbor had made, I realized that neither Louie nor I would ever claim he is perfect. But as I watched him walk with a limp, this thought gave me “paws.”
I wondered why we often work so hard to give the appearance of being perfect. Maybe we try hard not to appear “so perfect,” but we certainly don’t let others see us with our masks off, do we? And while people do not need to know every single thing that we think is wrong with us or that we try to hide from others, the key to dropping our masks and being genuine and authentic is humility! Every humble, successful, and effective leader I know “walks with a limp.”
Ken Blanchard always quotes the British author and scholar, C. S. Lewis: “Humility is not thinking less of yourself. It is thinking of yourself less.”
I struggled with this issue for many years. I wanted people to see that I had it all together and was pretty darn near perfect. That could not have been further from the truth. In fact, hiding behind that perfect mask was a lie! I wasn’t a perfectionist by any stretch of the imagination, but I sure did not want people to see the real me—because I didn’t want anyone to have a reason not to like me. Am I the only person who has ever struggled with this? I don’t think so. But the cost of wearing a mask kept me from being real and authentic and hindered my use of the God-given talents and gifts I’ve been blessed with. I’ve learned to be okay with walking with a limp, in more ways than one.
The pathology report came back with good news; the growth was just what Dr. Paul thought—a papilloma. Louie and I took a nice walk to celebrate. As I watched him, I appreciated the little lesson he had passed on to me. He doesn’t care what anyone thinks if he limps. If he can get out and has to walk with a limp, by golly, he’s going to go out and walk with a limp. Walking outside with his mama is much more important than trying to appear as if he has it all together, even if it means walking with a limp.
And so it should be with us. Removing all the pretenses of perfection is freeing. So what if you happen to limp a bit? How are you doing with letting down the mask and letting people see your flaws? It may be worth it to take some time to PAWS and reflect on this!
NEXT EPISODE: The Saga Continues-The Cone of Shame!
Speaking of masks (remember the days of Glamour Shots?)…do you suppose if I tipped my hand slightly my mask would have come off, like when Jane Jetson doned her ‘morning mask’ to talk on the video phone.? Oh, if only it were that easy. 😉
I’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, sometime back 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 granddaughter, Evi, joined Louie and I as we checked out this fun adventure.
It was evident 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. My trainer 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 us? 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 rearview 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 witnessed 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:
I could go on, but I’m sure you get the picture. Many wonderful leaders 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 and obedience training!
Louie has slipped back into some of his old bad behaviors. He does not want any other dog to enter into our home. And he’s not too fond of humans walking in either, but he tolerates them. This behavior is displayed only in my home and it wears on me.
But then it occurred to me. I have been lax in my being a consistent Alpha to Louie. You see, 90% of the time, Louie is a very well-behaved dog, and he minds well. And for this reason, I have let some little bad behaviors slip through the crack. This creates a chain effect of Louie thinking he can get by with those bad behaviors; getting on the furniture, getting into the trash, getting on the beds. Because he sometimes gets by with that behavior and other times not, this causes confusion for Louie. And when he’s confused, he operates in fear. It’s my fault that Louie is confused and feels the need to be territorial and protective.
One of the toughest principles for me to grasp over the years since Louie first came to live with me was how to be the Alpha in Louie’s “pack,” and my trainer was clear that I was a weak Alpha. My lack of strong leadership confused Louie, forcing him into the position of having to step up and lead, and that issue still exists today.
Before Louie and I found each other, I never gave much thought to asserting my role as Alpha Dog. Consequently, my dogs assumed that role, and I let them. It didn’t seem to matter because they were small and harmless. And by the time I got home after a long day at work, I was tired of being Alpha, so I let them boss me around. But that approach doesn’t work for Louie, and it does not work for people
There is so much that goes into being a good Alpha; being consistent, providing safety, setting appropriate boundaries, giving genuine and abundant praise, and offering a necessary correction. Again, all of those things must be rooted in trust and undergirded by love.
I remember back four years ago when the trainer first met us, Louie behaved very badly, and I was at my wit’s end. The trainer described my body language as defeated. Louie responded to this with fear and confusion. The words that moved me off the dime were, “I’ve seen you do leadership seminars, now you’ve got to do what you do in those workshops. Exude confidence. He needs reassurance that you know what you’re doing.”
Really? For my dog? I had made the common mistake of assuming that he would instinctively know that I’m the boss – simply because I’m the human, I’m larger than he, and I think more “knowledgeable.” The trainer taught me that it is about my level of confidence in where I’m going and what needs to be accomplished. That confidence is in knowing what’s best for Louie, giving him firm direction, and drawing out his very best behavior.
As leaders, our assumptions about others and situations around us unintentionally confuse our team. We have expectations that are not always clearly communicated, and then when not met, cause disappointment on our part and confusion on the part of others. Ken Blanchard often refers to this as seagull management, meaning a manager who only interacts with employees when a problem arises. This style of leadership involves hasty decisions about things of which they have little understanding, resulting in messy situations for others to clean up.
Being a strong leader is about so much more than claiming an impressive title, wearing expensive clothes and appearing important. It is about:
Dogs and people need a humble leader, not a bossy dictator. I’ve committed to leading with intentionality, clear vision and goals. I encourage you to do the same – whether you’re leading canines or humans.
I am happy to say I have assumed my role as Alpha of the house. Louie needs and desires my approval much more than he wants to be alpha, and consequently, Louie is a much happier pup. I’ve had to wrestle him to the ground once or twice to make him understand submission, a method I do NOT recommend for your team. But it is clear that he understands and appreciates my love and leadership. And I now know the value of being consistent in my leadership role.
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I envy my dog Louie’s ability to just be. As I watch him looking out the window, I often wonder whether he is looking for something in particular. Is he remembering the mole he dug out of the dirt in the backyard and thrashed it about until it was lifeless (witnessed by my granddaughter Evi)? Is he thinking of the many raccoons he has run up the tree? Or is he waiting for the deer to cross his path? They would be wise to choose another route! No matter what he may be thinking, he is perfectly content to hit the pause (PAWS) button on life and just be.
While Christmas is already upon us and soon we’ll be ringing in the New Year, I have to look back over 2017 and ask with astonishment, “What happened?” It’s not my typical thought, “Wow, this year went fast.” That is because this year was different.
On December 18, 2016, I had an accident and had to have surgery to repair a femur that was broken in two places and a full hip replacement. “Give yourself a year,” the surgeon said during a follow-up exam in which the details were extremely fuzzy. His prediction of a year to recover seemed to hit a nerve for me. No sooner were the words out of the surgeon’s mouth than I boldly shrugged and said, “Who needs a year? I’ll be fine!”
The process of recovery was grueling and I barely remember Christmas last year other than spending it at the home of my daughter and son-in-law with the two cutest nurses ever. But I did recover and was pleased with how well I was able to move around. It helped that it was a pretty mild winter last year so that I was able to get outside and walk.
Many were amazed at how well I recovered physically, including me. But I have to be honest; the incident literally and figuratively knocked me off my feet and knocked the wind out of me for almost the entire year. The surgeon was right: it would take every bit of a year. And over the months, I stopped to pause many times.
There’s a word in the Old Testament that I’ve grown to cherish over this past year: Selah. Although some debate the meaning, I’ve learned that its definition is “Pause and reflect on this.” While it may have been written centuries ago, it is still a good reminder for our world today to pause every now and then and reflect. Yet sometimes, we may need a little help hitting the pause button. I would say that my accident certainly helped me to pause and reflect on my life.
Of course, I would never wish such an injury on anyone, but I will admit that I am a better person for having gone through it. I enjoy life more, love more deeply, listen more emphatically, notice people in need more often, laugh more heartily, and celebrate more joyously.
And I am not the only one who has changed. I have seen a complete transformation in Louie over the past year. Because he’s had to slow down with me, he is more patient. I can tell he is more trusting of friends, he is more engaging when we visit schools and nursing homes. And he is even more loving and playful with Evi and Mea and houseguests.
I am grateful for a blessed life and—although I am not sure how this could ever be possible—I love God, even more, each day. And I am grateful for you too! Thank you for reading our Louie blog over the years. We are excited about some news we will be sharing in the first quarter of 2018, thanks to the many words of encouragement and feedback we have received from Louie’s followers. You’ll soon be the first to know.
In the meantime, during this wonderful season, do what Louie does—hit the PAWS button. And in doing so, be thankful for all the many things you have to be grateful for.
God bless you and your family! Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year.
Louie and I were enjoying an evening stroll in our neighborhood and stopped to talk to several neighbors. As we finished one conversation, Louie picked up the pace to continue our walk when suddenly, from out of nowhere, another dog charged him, barking feverishly.
Louie’s first reaction to any threat, real or imagined, is to run as fast as he can. But being on a leash prohibits that reaction, so he resorts to his next natural reaction: to fight. Louie’s hackles went up immediately, and he bared his teeth and growled viciously.
Never mind that the threat was an elderly, twelve-pound pug named Sophie who had gotten loose from her owner. Leash and all, she went after Louie with all her might. I yanked on Louie’s leash and commanded him to stop. But how could I do that when his very life was being threatened (or so he thought)? Sophie’s owner stood back and did not come to the rescue. Here I was telling my dog not to react while hers was loose and giving Louie all she had. When I realized I would not get any help from her owner, I reached down, grabbed Sophie, and in my best imitation of Clint Eastwood, hissed in her ear, “Not with my dog, you don’t!”
I handed Sophie over to her owner, and Louie and I continued walking, a bit out of breath but glad to be away from the nuisance. I was ticked, to say the least. In the heat of the moment, I thought of letting Louie do whatever he wanted to that little Sophie but decided not to allow the situation to escalate. It seemed unfair that I told my dog not to behave badly yet he was the one being attacked.
Oh, gee, wait . . . we do that all the time in our organizations, don’t we? Someone attacks another, and we stand by and watch because the attacker is “harmless” (or so we think). We try to handle the better-behaved employee because they take feedback well and are more apt to listen. Meanwhile, the attacker continues down their path of destruction. Many times, we don’t want to confront the attacker because of the havoc they will wreak. We brush off such poor behavior, reasoning that the attacker either didn’t mean any harm or must have had an issue outside of that they’re struggling to handle. After all, they really are a nice person, right?
Right! Sophie’s an adorable dog unless you’re another dog and happen to be anywhere in her sight!
Now, I know there is a theory about why small dogs think they need to go after larger dogs. I’ve owned a few of those small dogs myself; the most notorious was Cece. My sister, Mary Jo, described her as scrappy. Cece would chase after the Rottweiler down the street. The bigger the dog, the more aggressively Cece would take it on. So embarrassing! But Cece and the small dog syndrome will be the subject of another post.
This post is about how it takes only one person to destroy a team and set it back. Louie was skittish on walks after that incident with one little dog, which seemed to set us back four years to when I first adopted him and he was filled with fear. Sophie behaved poorly, Louie was reprimanded, and we found ourselves back at square one.
By the same token, it takes only one person to
Louie and Sophie will never be friends, but he should at least not have to fear her as we walk down the street. In reflecting on this situation, I’ve set out to be that one person who can positively affect others’ lives despite those who do nothing but attack. I encourage you to do the same and perhaps collectively, we can make our world a better place.
Just for fun…
Louie is not a fan of Halloween and costumes!
Louie and I were walking down the street toward our home. A neighbor was getting into her car and stopped to stare at Louie as he proudly pranced by. We exchanged hellos, and she smiled at Lou and said, “He’s such a good boy.” I just laughed and nodded.
He looked at me and I at him, and I thought, “He is a pretty good dog.” But then I continued that conversation in my head: “Well, most of the time. I mean, sometimes, he can be a bit, well, let’s just say mischievous.” Quite honestly, he is a totally different dog than he was during our first few months together.
Louie’s transformation was no accident—I was very intentional in making changes in my life and my leadership style, and it took a lot of work.
THE ONE THING
But the most transformative power in our journey together was my decision to be a loving person and to pour love into little Louie. I saw a significant difference in his behavior a few months into our time together and continue to see today, four years later!
Sadly, the word “love” receives eye rolls and shoulder shrugs. The word gets tossed around frequently these days in every circle that wants to claim it is the most loving. We see countless hateful Facebook posts and counter posts on how we need to love. Over four years ago, in my first Louie’s Leadership Lessons blog post, I took a chance and wrote about showing Lou unconditional love, knowing how the world viewed the “l-word”, especially in the workplace. Yet as we conduct more and more LOUIE speeches and workshops, one thing that is always consistent is the total misunderstanding of the word love.
A few months after my blog post on love, Harvard Business Review published a study demonstrating that employees perform better when they feel loved. The study made a distinction between friendship love and romantic love, mainly that friendship love is based on warmth, affection, and connection rather than passion. The study revealed, “It is the small moments between coworkers—a warm smile, a kind note, a sympathetic ear—day after day, month after month, [Danise’s Note: on a consistent basis] that help create and maintain a strong culture of companion love and the employee satisfaction, productivity, and client satisfaction that comes with it.”
STOP IT AND WHY!
So here’s my challenge to you today: stop training and coaching your staff in hopes of seeing change. Be the leader who genuinely loves! Unless you’re capable of showing authentic love to others, you will most likely cultivate a very toxic culture within your organization, family, and community. Don’t confuse being nice with demonstrating love. They are two different qualities. Love is a heart issue!
On the flip side, my observation has been that bosses who try to manufacture these qualities but demonstrate behavior to the contrary engender fear and mistrust among their employees.
May I be so bold as to take this a step further? I think it is virtually impossible to feel joy or experience peace in your life if you’re incapable of true genuine love. Most of us do not understand love. So let me help you. Here’s the tip of the iceberg of what I’ve been learning over four years of studying and blogging about Louie and love:
There’s no way you can be patient with others, show kindness, have integrity, be faithful to your word, be gentle, or exhibit self-control without love. All of these excellent characteristics are rooted in love. And as leaders, we must be people of love, not just doers of nice things. Check your motives and your hearts.
WHERE TRANSFORMATION TRULY BEGINS
It wasn’t easy for me to show consistent, genuine love to Louie. And it has been even more difficult to show love to people who are unlovable, demanding, or different from me—or those who have disappointed me. But I know what true love is, and I stand amazed that God so loves me! Who am I to withhold that love from people who may need it most?
I chose Louie, difficult personality and all. Granted, we usually do not get to choose those we are commanded to love in the workplace. But people in your space could be transformed because you choose to love them.