Don’t Hey Me!

Oh, the lessons I continue to discover thanks to my adopted pup Louie. While we’ve learned a tremendous amount and understand each other’s idiosyncrasies, there are a few behaviors of his that still puzzle me.

For example, I never know which humans he will growl at or who will get a tail wag from him. Since being together for over three years, I’ve concluded there is no rhyme or reason to his selection process. And then it hit me one morning as I was going through the avalanche of messages I received while being out of the office for a few days. Quite a few were from people I didn’t know from companies I wasn’t familiar with.

We’ve all received emails, voice mails, or LinkedIn messages with the greeting of HEY [Insert your name here]! It’s not the “Hey, Danise” that irks me; it’s the fact that I don’t know these people, and yet they act like we’re good buddies. As they continue their message, I start mentally clicking through my contacts trying to recall a chance meeting we may have had. By the message I received, you would think we were long lost friends. It is a marketing tactic that is running rampant in today’s social media world of superficial relationships.

It may just be me, but this tactic shuts down any possibility of that person being heard because I have a belief that the messenger, though he or she may have great information, is probably not being authentic. While I am perfectly okay with people using informal greetings, I am not okay with people acting like they know me when we’ve never connected.

Louie is no different. When someone he does not know approaches him, talks sweet, and acts like they are friends, he becomes very leery of them. Children are the only exception to his rule. Granted, Louie is cute, and everyone wants to talk to him. But if he doesn’t know them and senses something uncomfortable about them, he will lower his head and step to the side as if to move out of their reach. If that doesn’t work, he will back up and bark at them.

His message is clear . . . Don’t act like you know me when you don’t!

I learned this lesson the hard way over twenty-five years ago. The medical imaging equipment company I worked for acquired a small but very technically advanced company. Along with that acquisition came a regional manager, Joe, who became my boss. Joe recommended that I connect with a friend of his, Wendell, at a hospital in Louisville. I called Wendell on his private line, and he picked up on the first ring with a very gruff, “Hello!”

I cleared my throat, and in my perky salesgirl voice, I said, “Hi, Wendell. This is Danise DiStasi. Joe Hartzog suggested that I reach out to you. How are you today?”

“Fine!”

I cleared my throat a second time. “Great. Well, Wendell, I’m sure you’re busy, so I’ll—”

“Excuse me, young lady! Do I know you?”

“Hmmm, well, uh, I don’t believe we’ve met, have we? I think we may only know each other through Joe.”

“I don’t know you at all. Why do you think you can call me by my first name? I’d prefer to be addressed as Dr. Tyson.”

Needless to say, there were a few awkward moments after that announcement, and the recovery was tough. But I understood Dr. Tyson loud and clear. My boss, Joe, never addressed him as Dr. Tyson, only Wendell. I assumed it was okay for me to address him that way as well, even though we had never met. This was a classic case of being ill-prepared. And Dr. Tyson saw right through me. He didn’t know me, and me thinking that I had an “in” was not going to work with him.

While we may prefer to be immediately relational, what must come first is authenticity, which goes a long way with Louie and with humans. Dogs are incredibly sensitive to people being who they “say” they are, but we humans have to work a bit harder to figure out who people really are. The tactic of someone acting like they know us defies our basic human need of wanting to be truly known and, even deeper, to be known and loved. The superficiality of today is leaving a relational void in so many people’s lives.

I believe it is best to be authentic in every aspect of your life. Brené Brown talks about this in her famous TED Talk about the power of vulnerability. The people she studied who seemed to have a strong sense of love and belonging shared these three things:

  • Courage
  • Compassion
  • Authenticity

In her words, “These folks had the courage to be imperfect. They had a connection as a result of authenticity. They were willing to let go of who they thought they should be in order to be who they are.”

What you see is what you get when you connect with Louie: No pretenses, no games—just the real deal. He expects that in return from the humans he comes in contact with, and he is confused when he senses otherwise. Thanks to Louie, I have learned to let go of who I thought I should be in order to be who I really am.

*********************

Louie had to say goodbye to his lifelong buddy, Sampson, this weekend. Sammy was a great pal to Louie and was the real deal. We will always remember the fun walks and visits we had with him. Louie will miss seeing and playing with him, as will everyone in our neighborhood. Run and jump, little Sampson. You’re bound by nothing that will ever hold you back from being the fun-loving pup you were created to be.

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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Back to Normal, Whatever That Means!

Our last blog detailed a journey I’m glad to say I am more than halfway through. If all goes well, my release date from all restrictions is February 1, 2017. I am off all pain medication, and I took my first solo drive yesterday. I am beginning to see some normalcy slowly trickle back into my life. Again, I am completely humbled by the continued outpouring of love and encouragement. Thank you!

And then, there’s Louie! Louie was as traumatized as I was through this journey. He had to adjust to my being gone for two weeks; friends coming and going, walking and feeding him, playing with him, all while he constantly watched the door with the hope I would walk through it any minute.

Now that I’m home and he’s learned to trust my erratic movements with a cane, he seems to have settled back into some interesting habits: growling at people who come to my door (even his dog walkers) and jumping on the couch to sit directly across from me (better to watch me, he says).

One evening, a friend came by to take Louie for a walk. After they finished and she came in to sit with me for awhile, he ran into the house, checked on me, and then ran upstairs, where he ran the length of the hallway several times. Then, I heard a big commotion, and from where I was sitting, I could tell what that little rascal was doing. He was getting into my clothesbasket in my bathroom and taking all the clothes out of it, having no consideration whatsoever for the amount of time it took me to get the clothes into that basket.

His continued motion, which was evident even though he was a floor above me, indicated he not only removed the items from the basket, he was also rolling in them—all of them! Some time ago, I explained to Zig, our trainer, Louie’s annoying bad habit of rolling in the dirty laundry. I assumed it was because he wanted to surround himself with my smell, weird as that is.

But Zig assured me that was not it at all. Louie was getting his smell on my clothes, showing his dominance over me. WHAT? Now that is a really annoying bad habit that makes me realize we are back to square one. There will be no dominance of Louie over me.

But this is not surprising. When it takes all my energy to walk from the living room to the kitchen, disciplining a dog is not high on my list, especially since we’ve been through this before. The pressure was off of Louie to behave well, and when the pressure is off, he reverts back to his old habits.

That is so like us. A while ago, I wrote a blog about something I learned from my time with The Ken Blanchard Companies about the dynamics of change. One dynamic is that when the pressure is off, we revert to our original behaviors. Well, the pressure was definitely off, and Louie was back to some of his old habits. We will need to spend time correcting that. But rather than lament, I reflected on what this means as far as my recent journey and getting “back to normal.”

Finally being able to drive did give me a sense of life getting back to normal. Getting off medication, walking better, and looking forward to some normalcy were great goals for recovery. But did I really want normalcy to be my goal?

Not this time, not this year. I am going to be intentional (keeping the pressure on) about breaking past the norm to live a well-meaning life by doing the following:

  • pruning activities, objects, and even some relationships, all to devote precious time to what matters;
  • being kind in thought, word, and deed, whether people deserve it or not. I don’t mean just merely being nice (and sometimes superficial and phony), but being authentic and loving—speaking truth in love and showing those who differ from me, or have differing viewpoints, the compassion that only comes from faith in God;
  • taking time to listen in order to learn—and not rushing to the next project;
  • being still and having plenty of margin in my life;
  • laughing more; and
  • dancing (okay, that one is normal for me, but now takes on an even more special meaning). I will take time to dance more with my grandchildren and even my adult daughter because that’s what DiStasi kids do. My niece Sara is getting married in September, and she has promised we will dance the night away. That is my goal for 2017.

Be intentional about breaking past the norm. Life is too short and too easily interrupted for us to stay stuck in the status quo. And you are never too old to take that first step to crashing through the “same ol’, same ol’.”

As for Louie, we have some work to do. As I have been writing, he slipped into my laundry room and pulled out a dishtowel. He is so bad. I know he has a large fan base of people who love him, but this annoying little habit just makes me shake my head. I suppose being intentionally kind starts now with little Louie DiStasi!

 

 

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Life Interrupted

Today was the first day I was able to wrap my arms around Louie and give him a huge bear hug. It was three weeks ago that I had an accident and our lives quickly changed. And in celebrating my ability to hug him and receive an under the neck snuggle from him, I thought it fitting to resume our blog after an unintentionally extended vacation.

December 18, 2016, was filled with great anticipation. It was one week before Christmas, and the DiStasi family was planning to gather at my house to celebrate Christmas. Everything was set; the massive amounts of food, the decorations, gifts, and music. It was to be a celebration to top all the ones we had celebrated so far as a family.

Louie and I took our usual stroll early that morning. Two days before, there had been a late evening ice storm, but this particular morning seemed okay as far as icy pavement was concerned. Still, I was cautious and walked in the grass as much as possible.

An elderly neighbor has a very long driveway, and Louie and I had been taking her daily newspaper to her so she would not have to venture out and lean over to pick it up. As soon as I stepped on the driveway, my feet flew up in the air, and I landed on my left hip. I lost control of Louie, and it took me a few moments to catch my breath. I couldn’t see Louie, and panic was about to set in. His normal reaction when something startles him is to run away. And seeing his mama flying through the air had to have been startling.

I forced myself to turn as far to the left as I could. There Louie sat, close behind my left shoulder. I reached around to draw him close to me. As he tucked his head under my arm, I felt his shaking and heard him whimper. To hear him cry broke my heart, and my tears started to flow uncontrollably. I knew I could not move—and whatever would take place from that moment forward, it would be a long journey. Louie chose to stay by me as the faithful friend that he is.

A neighbor pulled up with his phone in hand, already calling 911, and I called my friend and neighbor Cindy to pick up Louie. I called my daughter, Marisa, and the network of community, family, and friends jumped into action. Everyone’s life was interrupted on December 18, 2016.

After a jarring ambulance ride, surgery to repair a femur that was fractured in two places, a total hip replacement, five days in the hospital, and physical therapy, I was released to Marisa and Matt’s home for respite care and to celebrate Christmas with the two cutest nurses on the face of the earth. Louie had been well taken care of by my wonderful neighbors who had walked him, let him stay in their homes, taken him to daycare to play, and given him more love than he could imagine.

Life interrupted has taught Louie and me a few things:

  • We appreciate life and the little things: Although that seems so cliché, it was the small steps of accomplishment that filled me with joy. Every day, I set new goals to accomplish—goals I never would have dreamed to set before. For instance, I learned to get out of bed, to go to the bathroom, and to take my meds without having to wake my daughter to help me. And to carry a cup of coffee in the morning to enjoy my quiet time. Mea and Evi helped me do things as they watched me improve. Christmas had a deeper meaning this year with sincere thankfulness, love, and joy!
  • You really do know who your friends are: So many people dropped everything to help. It was a terrible strain on Marisa and Matt as they took care of me. So many friends offered to grocery shop, run errands, and stay with me when I finally came home. My sisters and cousin packed their clothes and took turns staying overnight. My brothers were calling, visiting, and bringing food. The neighbors who took care of Louie were such Godsends. Many people could not help because of logistics, but they checked in and prayed.
  • You have to move out of your comfort zone: This was a tough one for Louie and me. I had to let people help me. What a humbling position to be in; I was helpless. I have never stayed in a hospital other than to give birth. I don’t take any medicines, and I have never fractured a single bone. The outpouring of love and encouragement has been overwhelming. Louie had to be comfortable with people coming and going in and out of our home and driving him to and from daycare. But we both pressed on through pain, frustration, fear, and being uncomfortable. It was difficult, but I believe we made it past the hardest part of this process. There’s still much more healing to take place and there will always be a next move out of our comfort zone. I have no doubt we’ll press through that too.
  • Some things just do not matter: The superficiality of the holidays clashed with the richness of genuine, loving relationships. There can be no comparison of the things that are bought with the things that are sought, caught, and taught. The characteristics of love, joy, and peace are important for us to live and pass on to others. It takes effort, but it is worth the time and effort. I am a better person because of the love, joy, and peace that others shared with me this season.

2017 is going to be a great year of love and strength. Louie is a better dog because he chose faithfulness over running away. He trusted and allowed others into his world to help us! We are closer because of these last few weeks. Thank you to so many for being in my life and for your prayers and support!

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Has Leadership Gone to the Dogs?

lou-as-prezThe subject line might offend Louie. In fact, it might offend you as well. But let’s face it—in the heat of the recent political battle, many of us are shaking our heads while trying to understand what just happened. One thing I do know is that disrespect for people with differing opinions is at an all-time high.

The rude rhetoric on all sides of the political spectrum gave me pause and made me think of Louie and some of his not-so-friendly foes. I am convinced that if people were to act the way our pets do, we would all get along better. For example, sometimes Louie might see a dog that challenges him. The two will snarl and growl and perhaps even bark at each other. However, the minute we walk side by side with the dog and its owner, they seem to get along. There is something about being intentional and walking alongside someone you have a disagreement with.

Louie has done this with my niece’s dog, Buddy. Those two little boys will scrunch their noses, curl their lips, show their teeth, stand their hair up, and bark in such a high pitch that people turn their heads with a look of concern. Andrea laughs, assuring everyone in sight that the dogs are actually cousins and are fine with each other. It sure doesn’t seem like it when they are img_4896facing one another. However, as soon as we start walking, they are fine together.

Louie also behaves this way with rambunctious Claire, his other cousin Noli, his neighbor Snickers, and a new boxer in the community named Socks. What is it about being side by side with their supposed nemesis? I think there are several things:

  • It is less threatening.
  • They are on equal ground.
  • They see the same vision of what lies ahead.
  • They walk with the same pace.
  • It is easier to carry the other’s burden. (Okay, this one relates to humans, not Louie.)

What if some of our leaders were intentional about walking side by side instead of duking it out? I am reminded of an article I wrote in 2005 when I worked with Ken Blanchard titled “Leading with Your Heart Takes Humility.” Although it was written over eleven years ago, the premise holds true today: Humility is the key to excelling in leadership. And servant leaders are humble enough to walk beside someone they disagree with.

I won’t share the full article here (you can find it at this link), but here are some of the highlights:

  • Something is glaringly missing from leadership today. Sadly, many leadership programs are missing just one key ingredient: the heart. Not just the heart of the issue or the heart of the matter—the heart of the people.
  • What gets in your way? What truly is your motive for being a leader or wanting to lead others? Is it for selfish gain or to better others?
  • Many times, our ego gets in the way and what bubbles up out of our hearts are things like pride, selfishness, and even fear.
  • How can you push past what holds you back? In getting past the barriers, is the challenge as a leader to balance confidence with humility to fight ego issues? Ken Blanchard often uses the quote, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself. It’s thinking of yourself less.” Every time you make a leadership decision, are you thinking of yourself or others?
  • Confidence does not come from being in a dominant position and leading by intimidation. Doing this will cause you to lose respect from others, and any talk about values or integrity will be ignored. Humility, however, is not something they teach us in business schools. It is a character trait that is honed over time with truth and love.

img_4750Our businesses, organizations, and families are hungry for leadership coupled with humility. It takes commitment to make the necessary changes to have a healthy culture and humble leaders.

Perhaps our world could learn a lesson from Louie about being intentional and walking side by side with others rather than snarling at them. While Louie doesn’t understand humility, his actions speak louder than his woof. He is more than willing to walk alongside others. As I watch his actions, I am convinced that we humans have much to learn from our dogs.

 

 

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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!

lily

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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What A Big Mouth You Have, Louie!

13047878_630636390418399_5224341423472476065_oWe were enjoying an early morning walk when we came upon two dogs we’ve never met before. One of them is a twin of Louie. She is a Corgi-Beagle mix, and she even has the same facial markings as Louie. She is a bit smaller than Louie, and her name is Peanut.

There was a noticeable difference, however, in the size of their mouths. Like her name, she was a peanut, and her mouth was tiny compared to Louie’s very big mouth. Louie’s mouth can do many things: bark, growl, show his teeth, eat, and mouth to pull and play. Louie provides “love taps” by poking his mouth against your hand when he is excited to see you. His mouth is conveniently attached to his nose which he uses to poke and prod. They work together to borough in the ground and pull lumps of grass to get to a mole.

Although Louie’s large mouth is actually harmless, he could do a lot of damage with it. This is not unlike ourselves. Our mouths, specifically our tongues, may seem harmless, but oh the damage they can do and usually, unnecessarily.

I love what the Bible teaches us about the tongue. “A bit in the mouth of a horse controls the whole horse. A small rudder on a huge ship in the hands of a skilled captain sets a course in the face of the strongest winds. A word out of your mouth may seem of no account, but it can accomplish nearly anything—or destroy it! It only takes a spark, remember, to set off a forest fire. A careless or wrongly placed word out of your mouth can do that. By our speech we can ruin the world, turn harmony to chaos, throw mud on a reputation, send the whole world up in smoke and go up in smoke with it…” And “You can tame a tiger, but you can’t tame a tongue—it’s never been done.”

We have the power to use our words to give life or to bring death to our relationships. Hurtful words can be used in slander, gossip, arguing, criticizing, complaining, distasteful language, boasting, and lying. And the damage can be irreparable. As we read that list, we shake our heads for we clearly know others who do these things. Yet, there’s a small voice within us that whispers, “Could this be me?”

I believe we are all guilty of some or all of these things. For the sake of brevity, let’s focus on the first two: gossip and slander. By definition, gossip is sharing personal or sensational facts about others; sharing private information with those who are not part of the problem or solution. Slander is using words, tonal patterns or facial expressions to deliberately damage someone else’s reputation with information that does not need to be shared.

We all do this either subtly or with as much gusto as possible, and perhaps we are not aware of the damage we are doing. I am most grieved by those who teach and preach against gossip and yet do so under the guise of caring for the person they are talking about, or worse, having the need to play the victim role and share how unfair someone treated them.

It takes intentionality to not step foot on the slippery slope of gossip and slander. It is not easy, but I am committing to these steps, thanks to Louie’s inspiration:

Look Ma, I'm Growing!PAWS

  1. PAUSE: There is power in the pause. When we pause before speaking, we gain time to process our thoughts. I’d rather make people uncomfortable with my pause than with my words. I’ve never regretted my pauses, but too many times, I have regretted my words.
  1. ASK: Ask yourself these things: What’s going on with me? Why do I have this need to share this? Would I want this person sharing information about me? Would I share this if the other person were in front of me? Reflect on your answers before you speak.
  1. WISDOM: Choose your words wisely. When we speak from a place of wisdom, people are more inclined to listen. 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.
  1.  STOP AND SEEK TO UNDERSTAND: Stop gossiping for one day. When we want to lose weight, we log our food to keep track of what we are putting into our bodies. Take a day this week to log how many times you talk about someone else. That may make you more aware of how easily gossip has seeped into your life. Then ask a friend to hold you accountable when you are together, and commit to not talking about others. Seek to understand the other person before casting judgement.

Through my relationship with Louie, I have learned a tremendous amount about my relationships with humans. With the size of his mouth, he could take a chunk out of someone, but he clearly chooses not to (up to this point). In that same way, I want nothing to stand in my way with those who are in my life, even those with whom I interact for a short time. I am going to stamp out gossip and slander in my life using the PAWS method. I hope you will join me.

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Louie and I Have Something In Common: We’re Both Introverts!

IMG_3409Recently I was thinking of getting another dog. Louie is home alone so often, and I worry he gets lonely when I’m not around. He gets plenty of exercise thanks to Sully and his mom, but he’s a pack animal, and I don’t think I’m enough “pack” for him.

But then I remember my first doggie duo. My daughter Marisa and I were convinced that Buffy, the first dog we owned together, was lonely and needed a buddy. So we brought a very energetic Bichon puppy named Bree home when Buffy was 3-years-old…she was Buffy’s worst nightmare.

Then after Buffy died, we adopted Cece. Cece wanted me all to herself, which was not going to happen as long as Bree was around. After they passed within three years of each other, I took a break from any more doggie drama. And now there’s Louie!

But I noticed something interesting about Louie. He loves his buddies and will whine to go out to play, but when he’s done, he comes home and quietly goes to his man cave. He has a spot in my bedroom and a crate on the lower level of my home and he prefers that no one invade his privacy. After observing his behavior over the last two plus years, it is clear he loves to be alone. Even when I’m home, he is not under my feet. He will go into his crate while I am working or go to his favorite spot to look out the window.

Perhaps this is a learned behavior after living with me since 2013. I love to be alone. I enjoy the quietness of my home, and I reenergize by spending time alone. I plan for plenty of white space on my calendar for that purpose. I guard that time because it is precious to me. I would never be able to pour into people as I do if I did not have plenty of time alone.

The reactions I receive when I tell people I’m an introvert ranges from utter disbelief to acknowledgement that they catch a glimpse of introversion occasionally. The audiences I speak to are usually the ones who display disbelief because their idea of an introvert is not someone who is comfortable giving speeches. I learned many years ago from my friend, Lynne Ruhl, the primary difference between an introvert and an extrovert. She asked one simple question: You’ve been around people all day at work or at a social event. Upon arriving home you receive a call from a friend who invites you to a party. Would you turn around and head out to the party or politely decline to stay home? I didn’t hesitate…stay home!

She explained that it doesn’t mean I am shy or socially awkward or even afraid of public speaking. It simply means I recharge by being alone.

The terms extrovert and introvert refer to the ways people use their energy. These words have psychological meaning that is different from the way they are used in everyday language. Everyone spends some time extroverting and some time introverting. Don’t confuse introversion with shyness or reclusiveness. They are not related and I am far from shy.

And things get really tricky when you throw in a new term ambivert, a word used to describe someone who exhibits qualities of both introversion and extroversion. Stop it! I’m an introvert who functions quite well in an extroverted world, and I love my time alone.

Good leaders understand that people have differing ways of directing their energies. Not everyone will respond the same way even in the same situations. Have your extroverted employees that have WOO as a strength (winning others over) go to the social networking events. Be aware of what energizes and what drains all your employees.

I sometimes wonder if the superficiality of our culture today, thanks to social media, hasn’t made me more keenly aware of being introverted. As someone who is very relational, my connection with others is key to my well-being. Yet, I still prefer time alone rather than engage in any insincere or phony relationship. And now I have an introverted dog that lives with me, and I’m thankful we are so compatible. He makes coming home even more of a welcome reprieve.

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