I’m Not Jumping Through Hoops Anymore!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

VIDEO: The Great Escape!

Louie Needs More than “Leave It.”

Leave ItLouie is a huge fan of my son-in-law, Matt. He thinks they are best buds. I’m not sure how this little love fest began, but perhaps it has something to do with Louie feeling like he and Matt are guy’s guys! Or that Matt usually has one of Lou’s alpha pups with him. But every time a truck roars down the street, Louie does back flips hoping it’s his buddy, Matt, and then he whines when it’s not.

I agree with Louie–Matt is indeed pretty special. We were having a conversation the other evening about the difference between the phrases “let it go” and “leave it.” While my granddaughters broke out in song (which they’re happy to perform for you; see link below), Matt wisely and simply explained that “let it go” means you actually have something to release, while “leave it” means you haven’t taken possession yet.

“Leave it” is a command I often use with Louie. When we’re passing a dog he doesn’t like, or when he thinks he needs to runs from a cat, or he wants to rummage through a neighbor’s garbage bag, “leave it” is a common command for dogs and seems to work pretty well. He immediately points his nose forward, continues prancing down the street and leaves the matter behind.

There are other times when “leave it” just doesn’t work. He can’t leave the feelings of fear or frenzy behind. He huffs and puffs and focuses on whatever is disturbing him. I recognize that those times will take a little more direction on my part. I stand between him and the object, and make him sit and look at me, which is a command he immediately obeys. Sometimes, though, his eyebrows go up and his ears go back, indicating he’s less focused on me and more on the source of his obsession. Occasionally, I will offer a treat to get him to focus on me. The goal is teaching him that whatever has caused him unpleasant feelings in the past can no longer have control over him. Like humans, Louie has a tough time learning that lesson.

After one recent “leave it” incident, I reflected on Matt’s wise words, my granddaughters singing the song, “Let It Go” and the hidden gems in the movie Frozen (It was a very long walk). In the movie, Anna, the youngest daughter of the Queen and King and little sister of Elsa, was accidentally struck Elsa’s ice powers. The family immediately took her to Pabbie, the leader of the trolls, who healed her and wisely explained that fear will always be Elsa’s enemy. The family then went home and closed off all the windows and doors because they thought Pabbie meant others would fear Elsa’s powers. But in reality, Pabbie meant it was Elsa’s and her parents’ own fears that would be the enemy. Elsa’s fearful emotions controlled her and caused confusion and disorder. Sadly, she distanced herself from everyone around her, even those she loved. This is true for many of us, as well.

What was the remedy? An act of true love. Not the romantic, superficial type, but honest, genuine, selfless love. And the affable, lovable snowman, Olaf, displayed that love when he was willing to melt into a puddle because he put Anna’s needs before his own. Fortunately, Elsa’s icy heart melted because of her love for her sister, and it all ends well.

Another classic lesson is from the Scripture when Peter got out of the boat. He didn’t hesitate when he saw Jesus walking on the water because his focus was on his Lord and not on his fear. He was not distracted by the raging sea. However, the minute he took his eyes off Jesus and focused on the storm, he started to sink. Of course Jesus saved him and gently admonished him for focusing on the problem and not on the person.

Good leaders notice when others may be steeped in fear or wallowing in angst over a situation. While a simple reminder to “leave it” may work, helping them focus on their strengths, on the positive parts of the project and offering guidance and wisdom to persevere is more effective.

Louie has learned that the command “leave it” means I love him, he can trust me, and whatever is causing him angst is not worth it. He has learned to focus on my gentle leading and when he does that, the irritation passes. But it requires more than words and simple remedies—it takes time, patience, love and hopefulness.

An excellent rendition of Let It Go! Turn your speakers down and watch closely!

When The World Was Silent

IMG_1841It is early Saturday morning, November 1, and it already looks like a blustery, cold weekend. As I’m writing, one “like” after another pops up on my FaceBook page, and my attention is continually diverted to review the latest comment. My daughter posted a picture of my adorable grandchildren dressed up for Halloween. Nonna had to get in on the fun and dressed up as Cruella DeVille–no costume needed, just a brush of the hair to expose the white streak that has been invading my dark head of hair over the last few years. It worked, and the “likes” were popping up by the second.

Louie, however, was unimpressed. As he sat in his favorite chair and sighed, he looked at me with those big brown eyes. “Mom, remember when the world was silent?”

“Hmmm,” not wanting to be distracted from my computer, “No, Lou, I don’t remember any such thing.”

“Well, I sure do.” He sighed, deeper this time. “Long, long ago when you picked up your new phone and it wasn’t working quite right, you had to go without it for a day, remember?”

I continued typing, “It was actually just three weeks ago and it wasn’t working at all!” I stopped typing and looked at him. I grimaced as I thought back on that time. If there is ever an area where my patience is tested, it is in the area of technology. I consider myself very proficient in understanding technology, an understanding that dates back to my college days of learning the intricate, technical design of radiology and nuclear medicine diagnostic imaging equipment. I expect technology to work well but it will never work fast enough for me, no matter how advanced it becomes. When I picked up my new phone, it had several issues, and I could not return to the store until the next day. So I had to do without it for a day.

“I remember we took long walks together, we talked, and you actually looked at me when you talked to me,” Louie observed.

“Lou, aren’t you being a little dramatic? I take you on long walks now, right?” DING, another “like”, and I’m right back on my computer, laughing out loud at the latest snide comment on the post.

He leaned back in the chair and sighed as he longingly looked out the window. “I rest my case!”

“Awww, Lou, come on! It’s not that bad,” I said, not looking up. “I know I’m on my computer a lot, but I’m a writer and that means computer time.”

He then sat straight up and looked at me with an intense, soul-searching look. “It’s not about the computer, Mom, or the likes or the funny comments.”

I closed my computer and sat for a minute looking at my pup. After staring intently at one another, I suddenly understood the message his body language and facial expressions were trying to relay to me. Yes, Louie, I remember when I didn’t have my phone for a day and it seemed the world was silent and it was wonderful. That time of disconnection was a welcome reprieve from the bombardment of social media

Today, people will write just about anything in their posts, articles and advertisements. Truth seems to be a commodity that is regarded as silly, or worse, not necessary. A business can tout how healthy their culture is yet the only person giving such a testimony is the new hire that has been there for two months.

How easy it is to get caught up with hoping people “like” us. Our innate desire to be connected is glossed over by what we want people to see and in turn, what we hope they like. I’ve shared this before yet so many times I’ve seen FaceBook posts that I know are anything but true. I cherish the posts that are real and authentic. I love the pictures of my family, friends and loved ones and following stories such as Lauren Hill and Devon and Leah Still. But oh, how I cringe at the boastfulness of others.

Over time, I’ve come to realize that people have a foundational need to be relational, authentic and transparent. Simply putting on a mask, writing a “boast post,” and becoming “known” does not make you a likable person or a good leader. People clicking “like” does not mean people like you. It’s all about the need for true authentic relationships at the very core of our being. When that is missing with our family, loved ones and teams, and even with people we don’t know well, success is fleeting.

I looked at Louie, who was determined to win the stare down. “Let’s go on a long walk, Lou!” And with that Louie jumped to his feet, happily bounded down the steps, tail wagging, tongue hanging out, and headed toward the door. He is a constant reminder of the need for truth and from him I have learned how refreshing and freeing the truth can be.

NOTE: A dear friend of mine eulogized her 93 year old father this past Sunday. In his lifetime, he had lived through the depression and was a hero in World War II. For a man who did not have social media to tout his character, he was honored and well remembered for living a truly authentic life. No truer words were spoken than those from a poem his daughter tearfully read:

“The World Needs Men

Who cannot be bought.

Whose word is their bond.

Who put character above wealth.

Who are larger than their vocation.

Who do not lose their identity in a crowd.

Who will be as honest in small things as in great things.

Who will make no compromise with wrong.

Whose ambitions are not confined to their own selfish desires.

Who will not say they do it because “everyone else does it.”

Who are true to their friends throughout good times and bad … in adversity as well as in prosperity.

Who do not believe that shrewdness and cunning are the best qualities for winning success.

Who are not ashamed to stand for the truth when it is unpopular.

Who can say “no” with emphasis although the rest of the world says “yes.”

Robert E. Barnhart, Dad, was that kind of man.”

No One Likes To Be Told What To Do!

IMG_0198I am trying to say this in a nice way, but I’m just going to put it out there…no one likes to be told what to do. I know I’m a dog, and my leader mom is my alpha, and she regularly trains and gives me commands, but sometimes I just don’t like being told what to do. By now I know what makes my leader mom happy– walking beside her, letting go of something I shouldn’t have, etc. Or my favorites: stay, heel and down! But there are times when I know what I’m doing and she will give a command. And when I look at her as if to say, “I already know this,” she sternly repeats the command as though I didn’t hear her. So I decided to observe how some of my gal pals handle being told what to do.

First, there’s Eve. When we took her outside, she was halfway down the sidewalk when my mom said, “Eve, don’t pull.” Then there was Ellie, who was already at eye level before her leader mom told her not to jump! Allie’s been told not to kiss me so much but she never pays attention to that command. Khaki’s been told by her leader mom to stop barking when I pass her house. That never works so I have to go give her some attention. And, of course, there’s Snickers, who clearly doesn’t like me, no matter what her mom tells her!

My buddies are not much better. My pug buddy Samson will walk in whatever direction he wants to walk, and Mick—well, Mick actually does what he’s told. So six out of seven of my pals do not like being told what to do, which I believe proves my point.

But I decided to dig a bit deeper. I observed my leader mom as she read through several articles, such as Five Things Successful Entrepreneurs Do; 13 Things Your Stylist Won’t Tell You; What You Need To Do To Be a Strong Leader; Four things a Leader Does First Thing in the Morning, etc. Interestingly, I noticed my leader mom does NOT follow every single suggestion. In fact, by reading her body language I’d say she is overwhelmed by all the suggested ways to improve. It is clear to me that humans don’t like to be told what to do, yet often the first words you read or hear are, “Here’s what you need to do!” So I concluded my research and the findings are as follows: Humans like to give commands and opinions on how to do things better, but no one listens!

After all this work, I needed a break, so I danced and whined by the front the door to let mom know that now would be a good time for us to go for a walk—and she obliged. The sunset was beautiful so we strolled leisurely rather than walked at our usual brisk pace. In a flash, I saw a cat run past, and I immediately ran the other direction. SNAP! My mom called my name, snapped my collar and said, “STAY,” as she made me stand at attention beside her. Then a car went flying by, narrowly missing us both! My mom was expressing her thoughts a little more animated than usual while I was catching my breath. I could have died if my leader mom hadn’t told me exactly what to do right at that moment. Good thing she didn’t say, “Louie, I wonder if there is a better way to express your fear of cats?” I would have died while we had that nice little conversation.

Then it hit me! There are times when clear directions (commands, in my case) are needed; a time when the Socratic method is appropriate, and a time when simply listening is the most loving and effective method. Some leaders ONLY use the questioning method and it feels very manipulative because you know you have to do what they tell you or your job is in jeopardy. Others never offer the opportunity for team members to develop critical thinking skills, or the ability to explore other options, when they just tell you what to do.

I’ve experienced my leader mom’s ability to balance her leadership behaviors. She knows when to give direction and when to provide support and many times she balances the two nicely. She knows when to ask questions and when to listen. (It doesn’t hurt that she’s an avid student of Situational Leadership II). The most effective leaders are those who size up the situation and provide just the right amount of instruction and care. Leaders who only have one leadership style (which is often some form of control and manipulation), miss out on the very best their team is willing to give.

I think Henry Cloud said it best in his audiobook (yes, I listen as my leader mom gleans wisdom from her audiobooks). “Behavior changes occur when we are able to grapple with issues. When you provide context— by listening, sharing information and positive examples, setting expectations and consequences, creating a healthy emotional climate, and challenging them to do their best— they will figure it out and implement it. That is a lot better than just ‘telling them what to do.’”1 That takes time and discipline, and from my observation, some humans don’t have the discipline and won’t take the time for others.

Ultimately, I’ve come to realize that my leader mom knows best! I’ve come to love and trust her so my heart’s desire is to please her–not because she tells me what to do–but because I want to serve her. While no one likes to be told what to do, most of us love to give to those we care about. And the best form of caring is service!

 

1 Cloud, Henry (2013-04-16). Boundaries for Leaders: Results, Relationships, and Being Ridiculously in Charge