When Louie Locks Eyes With You

Louie is one smart dog. I know most dog owners say that about their dogs, but truly, this little guy is amazing.

For instance, we’ll be taking a long walk, and typically Louie can walk quite a distance. But sometimes if he’s been on a long run with his friend and walker, Mary, he’ll let me know he’s tired. He’ll slow down, lower his head and look straight into my eyes as if to say, “Can we slow it down a bit?”

When I ask him if he wants to go back, he spins right around and trots back toward our home with a sudden burst of newfound energy.

What gives me pause as I reflect on this interchange is the way Louie locks eyes with me, which he does quite often. He doesn’t just look at me; he actually locks eyes with me and clearly communicates his message. Not a word passes between us (well, OK, I am doing all the talking), not a hand signal, not a sound, and yet he understands me and I understand him. Now, that is an amazing dog.

Other times as we walk, he just reaches up with his mouth to touch my hand. I look at him and, again, he locks eyes as if to say, “I just wanted you to know I’m still here.”

I started to take note of how often Louie locks eyes, not only with me but with others as well:

  • When he comes across an unfamiliar dog, he stares and locks eyes. Actually, this is a stare down and a challenge. I would not suggest you do that with others.
  • When someone enters my home, he locks eyes with my guests, searching to see if they are friend or foe. Usually, he warmly welcomes them into our home.
  • When I am in the kitchen cooking, he stares, hoping to lock eyes with me so that I will fall under his spell and hear his plea: “Give me a piece of the food you are preparing that smells so wonderful. That’s right, just drop it on the floor and I will love you forever.”
  • During my quiet time in the mornings, there is a sense of peace and calmness. I look over at Louie on his bed, and we lock eyes as if to say, “All is well!”
  • He locks eyes with my granddaughters Evi and Mea when they give him belly rubs.
  • I’m amazed how he locks eyes with the drivers in big black trucks whom he mistakenly believes are my son-in-law delivering Evi and Mea to my home.
  • And he locks eyes with my neighbors either while we’re walking or when he sees them stroll by our house. He will bark at them until they acknowledge him and he has an opportunity to make a connection with them.

I could go on about this uncanny way of locking eyes and communicating a wordless message.

My parents always taught me to lock eyes with people because they matter. And Louie has confirmed the need for this powerful leadership tool. Effective and successful leaders hone their relationship skills by practicing the small and seemingly insignificant behaviors that let others know they are valued and loved. Taking time to truly “see” people is an important leadership behavior.

Some time ago, I heard Bill Hybels, the founding pastor of Willow Creek Community Church in Illinois, say, “You cannot lock eyes with someone who does not matter to God.” That resonated with me then and still does today.

In our very superficial world where most of the people we pass have their faces plastered against their phones, I urge you to take a few minutes to truly lock eyes with someone and let them know they matter–you see them and they are valued. You just might make a significant difference in another person’s life and begin the process of truly finding common ground.

Louie loves to communicate with his eyes, and I am blessed to be the recipient of his “lock and load ’em up with love” big brown eyes. Yep, I feel loved!

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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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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Expectations vs. Expectancy

Louie, my adopted pup, and I were walking on a beautiful fall day when we saw one of his pug buddies—or so we thought. His friend Sammy is a tan and black pug with a unique characteristic: his tongue protrudes ever so slightly. I recognized that the person walking him was not his owner. That’s not unusual since many of us in the community need others to walk our dogs on occasion. Louie was excited to see his buddy and could hardly wait to romp and play.

As we approached, I asked if the dog was Sammy, because he had the same markings and same characteristic of a slightly protruding tongue. The person walking him said no. But Louie quickly ran up to the Sammy look-alike; it did not take him long to realize this was not his buddy, and then he became indignant as if he was mad at the pug for not being Sammy.

We quickly said our good-byes while Louie kicked up his feet and snarled just to make sure the dog understood he was not even close to being Sammy.

I realized Louie’s expectations for playing with his friend were unmet, and disappointment had set in quickly. Based on all appearances, Louie was expecting to have fun and play, but that expectation was not to be filled that day.

This time of year, the majority of us have many expectations that, when unmet for whatever reason, will disappoint us. People have a hard time moving on from such setbacks. I think these disappointments occur because we’ve set ourselves up for failure when we box up our expectations in the hopes that they will be fulfilled.

Instead, what if we had a spirit of expectancy? You may wonder what the difference is between having expectations and having a spirit of expectancy. A spirit of expectancy is what very young children usually possess. They have the mindset that something wonderful is about to happen, but with no expectation of specifics. While they may wish for something on their Christmas list, it is their heart of expectancy that is truly magical. It is the hopefulness of something wonderful. For me, that may entail time with my family, but without expectation that the time meets any specific criteria—it is simply time together.

Another example occurred on the holiest of nights. For centuries, people expected the Messiah to come amongst their midst. In this expectation, they envisioned a king, surrounded by throngs of noble men and women and trumpets blaring. Because of these expectations they missed the wonder of all that took place on that quiet, serene night when the stars were brightly shining.

Yet only those with a spirit of expectancy, whose hearts were open to the wonder of what only the Creator of the universe could put into action, witnessed the birth of the King in a simple, lowly manger.

Expectations for particular things and events always run the risk of disappointing us, since many times, events and what others do are out of our control. As we wind down our year, rather than focusing on the disappointments of unmet expectations, let’s look forward with a heart of expectancy and see if that doesn’t lighten our spirits with the hope that something wonderful is about to happen.

While Louie experienced disappointment by not having his expectations met with the look-alike Sammy, it did not dampen his spirit of expectancy. He still walks out of our home with the hope that something wonderful is about to happen. Something as simple as seeing a dear neighbor who pats him on the head or gives him belly rubs lends to his heart of wonder.

 

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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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Do Unto Others

We hope you had a wonderful Christmas and that your New Year is off to a great start. Louie is the perfect dog to lounge around with and enjoy downtime. We visited several people over the holidays, and he was a perfect gentleman at each home. While I believe he is an almost perfect dog I noticed something peculiar. He doesn’t understand the Golden Rule.

IMG_2408We have a new friend in the neighborhood who loves to play with Louie. Claire Lee Himmel is an English Retriever and as rambunctious as they come. Though she is a bit larger than Louie now, she was much smaller when they initially met. She needed no introductions and ran right up to Lou, got right in his face, kissed him, pulled on his ears, bit his face, and jumped all over him. He didn’t share her enthusiasm and backed away after giving her a quick snarl. He continued to demonstrate his disapproval as I stood talking to Claire’s mom for a few minutes. This interchange took place every time we ran into Claire and her mom.

But when we run into his buddy Mick, a Golden Doodle, Louie behaves very differently. He runs up to Mick, grabs his ears, gets in his face, and nips at his legs until Mick calls it quits by sitting as close to his mom as he can get. Louie clearly loves to play the part of the bad little brother, giving little thought to how aggravating he can be.

Noli

Noli looking quite innocent

Recently, we went to my brother’s home to visit Louie’s cousin, Noli Cannoli, a wisp of a dachshund, weighing every bit of five pounds but packed with 100 pounds of feistiness. She made it clear to Louie that he was to stay near me, he was not to walk around the home, nor get into any toys, go near his family or breathe, for that matter. Lou knew his place, sat quietly and behaved perfectly. All night he looked at me as though asking, is she for real? He slept all the way home, worn out from his cousin’s energy.

But when one of his pals comes into our home, he does the very same thing Noli did. He immediately establishes the ground rules by his actions: Don’t go in the kitchen, or go near my mom, don’t look at any food, or in the direction of the pantry, don’t drink from my water bowl or look out the window. I have to change the scenery and corral Louie and his pal into the family room to play and then suddenly, and it’s all fun and games for Lou.

While I think his behavior is comical, I am reminded that we sometimes behave just like this. We want to be treated with love and kindness yet we pick and choose to whom we want to demonstrate those virtues. I am continually challenged when I read these words: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you.”* The “Golden Rule” gives us a standard by which all of us who are naturally selfish people can assess our actions. Jesus’ Golden Rule is a positive command to proactively demonstrate love.

It requires work and intentionality to treat others with love, patience, and kindness. It is easy to love the loveable or those who are just like us. But that’s not what this directive requires. It is clear that we are to do to others what we would have them do to us.

Many times if there is something that rubs us the wrong way about a person, chances are we have the very same quality that needs to be worked out of us. Think of this the next time you want to complain about someone. What is it about them that irritates you? Could it be you display the very same quality? And if so, how can you treat that person as you would want to be treated? In the long run, it is not just about the other person, but it is working out a difficulty in ourselves. And the best place to start is by practicing the Golden Rule on a regular basis whether we feel like it or not.

Louie will eventually get this—maybe. It is a very tough lesson for all of us to learn. It may take some practice with Claire but now that she is bigger, he may grow to love her as one of his Alpha girls. He loves Alpha girls. [Link to Alpha Girls]. Noli Cannoli will learn to love Louie over time once she trusts that he will not get her toys.

My resolution is to be more intentional about treating others as I would want them to treat me, whether they reciprocate or not. I want 2016 to be the year of intentionality and loving others.

*Matthew 7:12

Mick tolerating Louie

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Addressing Conflict

Interview With Ellie

Ellie and Louie having a discussion.

We hope you had a blessed Thanksgiving. Thank YOU for taking the time to read our blog. If you’ve been engaged with us for a while, you know that my adopted pup Louie has a few issues. He sometimes acts tough when actually he is afraid, he doesn’t like anyone coming into our house, and he absolutely does not like conflict.

You might wonder how a dog can know anything about conflict. Well, his actions speak volumes. He runs from any type of confrontation the minute it begins. Clearly, this type of behavior doesn’t work in the “real” world of business. Interestingly, a healthy culture that promotes trust requires dealing with conflict.

So we decided to talk to one of Louie’s gal pals, Ellie Ruhl, who is an expert on dealing with conflict. Here’s what we learned:

LOUIE: Ellie, I was wondering if you could help me. My Master Mom seems to think I have an aversion to conflict. Since your Master Mom, Lynne Ruhl, is an expert on healthy cultures and helps people all over the world deal with conflict, perhaps you can give me some advice?

ELLIE: Of course, Louie. I’ll certainly try. Tell me why your Mom thinks you have this aversion.

LOUIE: Uhh, well, I run every time there’s conflict. It’s very uncomfortable! There’s growling, baring of teeth, loud voices all around. Makes my stomach hurt just thinking about it.

ELLIE: Louie, that does sound uncomfortable. Does it frighten you?

LOUIE: No, not at all.

ELLIE tilts her head and continues to look at Louie with her adorable big eyes.

LOUIE: Well, maybe just a little.

ELLIE: That’s understandable. After all, just from the body language alone, there is a clear message being sent, right? In our culture when a dog bares his teeth he is sending you a clear message to back off or else.

LOUIE: Right, and I get that message loud and clear and take off running. Don’t have to tell me twice.

ELLIE: That’s probably the best approach when you’re dealing with a fellow canine. But when dealing with humans, sometimes the best approach is to take some time to process what’s going on and then deal with the issue. You’re not alone. Most people don’t know how to deal with conflict. It really is uncomfortable. But the alternative is living with suppressed anger or resentment, which eventually leaks out causing harm to us and others. So it is best to deal with it.

LOUIE: I know Ellie, you’re right. You’re always right. So show me some steps I should take to deal with conflict more effectively.

ELLIE: Sure, Louie. I’d be happy to.

  1. First, take time to cool down. Step back and assess what’s going on inside you.
  2. Seek to understand what the other person might be experiencing.
  3. Pay close attention and let them share whatever is going on for them. See things from their perspective. And most importantly, listen.
  4. When you seek to understand the other person’s position, your body language and attitude will soften and won’t look “scary” to them.

LOUIE: Ok, thanks El. And this works?

ELLIE: Oh yes, it works for my Mom every time. Remember, dealing with conflict can be uncomfortable but losing a friend is heartbreaking

LOUIE: Wow, Ellie, that makes so much sense. This has been really helpful. I wonder if my Master Mom knows this information.

ELLIE: Oh, of course she does Louie. She uses it all the time.

LOUIE: Thanks, Ellie. I think I will do better next time I’m around conflict. You’re a great friend to help me out with this.

ELLIE: You’re welcome Louie. I appreciate our friendship. And you know I really love your Mom, right?

LOUIE: Of course, [sniff], I know that [gulp]. I’m good with that, El.

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Ellie and Louie lost their pal, Luna last month. She was just a pup who had experienced a bite from another dog. After being treated for some time, she lost her battle. She's pictured here with our business partner, Chuck Proudfit, along with Chuck's daughter, Maya and their other pup, Jet.

Ellie and Louie lost their pal, Luna Proudfit last month. She was just a pup who had experienced a bite from another dog. After being treated for some time, she lost her battle. She’s pictured here with our business partner, Chuck Proudfit, along with Chuck’s daughter, Maya and their other pup, Jet. Rest well, little Luna, and thank you for the joy you brought to the family.

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Happy birthday to my precious daughter, Marisa! I am so incredibly proud of you!Me and Ris

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Pretty Little Liars

I may sound like a broken record, but if you know me or you’ve read this blog long enough, you know how strongly I believe in authentic relationships. Humans desire deep connection with others, and dogs are no different. Trust is the foundation of a strong relationship, and without it, the relationship is weakened.

When Louie and I first met, he was so full of fear that it took months to build trust. During that timLou's cribe, I quickly realized that Louie had a knack for knowing truth—he’s an amazing pup!

For example, he can tell where I’m going and what I’m doing simply by seeing what outfit I’m wearing. If I am dressed in a business suit and heels, he knows he is not going for a walk. If I put on my gym shoes, however, he knows his chances for a walk are greatly improved. If I combine my workout clothes and gym shoes, he waits to see if I grab the leash or head toward his cushy canine crib, which determines whether he goes with me, or must wait for me to return home.

I know Louie is not only greatly influenced by what I wear but also by what I say and how I say it to him. If I am dressed for business and say “I’ll be right back” while sending him to his crib before I leave, he knows that in actuality I won’t be right back, and he reacts to that. Saying “bye bye” to him has a different meaning as well. That means we BOTH go bye bye, to the park or somewhere else for fun. When he goes into his crate and I say bye bye, this does not make sense to him. If I have my flip-flops on and start to walk out the front door and he is not in his crate, when I say, “I’ll be right back,” he knows I will be right back. That action usually means I am going to the mailbox. My actions and my words align. He picks up on my cues and watches my behavior just as we do when someone is sharing information with us. If their words and their behaviors do not match, we don’t trust them.

I learned early in life not to lie. But this lesson particularly impacted me at age 18. I was studying to be a Radiology Technologist under the supervision of a wonderful radiologist, Dr. Howard Feigelson. He would carefully examine every set of X-Ray films I took to him, diagnose what was going on with the patient, and then critique my technique. If my films were not perfect, I had an excuse for everything–the patient moved, the patient breathed, that particular machine overexposes, etc. Dr. Feigelson would sit back and look at me over the rim of his glasses and just say the nickname he coined for me, “Dani.” I knew I had been busted. He was a wise man and could easily tell my words and my behavior did not line up. He then proceeded to teach me proper radiology technique as well as the dangers of habitually justifying poor performance.x-ray-skeleton-dog

As I reflected on these life lessons years later, I realized how Dr. Feigelson combined truth with love. The point wasn’t only proper technique. It was the importance of being truthful and authentic. Although my parents had certainly taught me this, it was “real world” experience that made it stick. I realized I made excuses because I never wanted to disappoint him. But when I made excuses, I disappointed him even more.

This brings us back to my original point that trust is the foundation of strong relationships, which begins with being honest and truthful. We may not outright lie, but we don’t exactly share the truth. Eventually, people can tell that our words don’t match our actions. Consequently, trust erodes and authenticity shrinks.

Learning to BE Authentic takes practice and, hopefully, this may help:

  • B: What is the belief at the core of your excuse? Is it fear of exposing a mistake? Is it fear of not being liked? Is it the fear of rejection? Is it fear of inadequacy? Take time to process these questions and understand the belief.
  • E: What emotion are you feeling because of the belief? Be very clear in naming that emotion and challenging it. Why is this causing such angst? Is it worth the price you will pay in sacrificing the relationship? How will you feel if you “get by” with this excuse versus being honest?
  • A: Authenticity is strengthened when you align your actions. To build trust, we must first align our hearts and our minds internally and then our words with our actions externally.

Louie knows that sometimes when I say, “I’ll be right back” that I will not be right back and he reacts to that. And people sense when you make excuses, and are not being honest. It is not worth the time or energy to be anything but truthful. While we do not want to hurt others feelings, being honest is the most loving gift we can give to others!

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Louie’s favorite gal pal, Kacki passed suddenly last week. During our walks, we would head up the hill toward Kacki’s home where she would be sunning herself, relaxing. Even before she was in sight, Lou would hold his head up high, trying to get a glimpse of this beauty. And there she was, just waiting and watching for her little buddy Louie! She wouldn’t blink an eye or move her head, yet her tail drummed the beat of her happy heart. She loved seeing Louie and he so loved his Kacki girl. Kacki, we hope you’re enjoying the beautiful view from the hill you adorn today! We miss you and will always look for you at the door!

Don’t Adjust To Your Dog!

Louie and I really enjoyed our training sessions at the Queen City Dog Training Club. Between the sessions we attended and the benefits of Zig’s wisdom, we’ve learned a lot. But one lesson in particular stands out.

During this lesson, the instructor would have us give several commands while walking around the ring, and would observe how quickly our dogs responded. We would walk quickly and then stop; our dog would stop and sit next to us. Louie would stop and sit but always at a 45-degree angle and while looking up at me. It looked as though he wanted to be able to see my face. Because I knew he was supposed to be right at my side, I slowly stepped closer to him until we were side by side.

“Don’t adjust to your dog,” came the command from our instructor and it was directed toward me. I looked at Louie and said, “Pay attention, Lou. You’re going to get us in trouble.”

Once again we were told to walk around the ring and were given the command to stop and have our dogs sit next to us. Lou sat at an angle again but this time I looked at him and then the instructor. She looked at me and said, “Don’t adjust to him. Scoot his bottom toward you.”

And so I did, muttering under my breath, “Why are you doing this?” He looked at me as though asking, “What did I do?”2014-06-27 21.33.41

After repeating this routine several times, I was ready to give up. Finally, Louie understood and sat perfectly still right next to me. Our training session was over but the lesson was not. The words, “Don’t adjust to your dog,” echoed in my mind for weeks.

What was wrong with adjusting to my dog? After all, it was just one step toward him. It was hardly noticeable and in the end, we achieved what we wanted to achieve—our dogs sitting right next to us. Then it dawned on me—when I moved toward him, I was adjusting to poor performance. And I let him know that the poor performance was OK, even celebrated, if I patted him on the head.

Being flexible is very important as a leader. And we discussed in our last post about the importance of clarity in communicating our expectations. But adjusting to poor performance is a different matter. Sometimes we adjust because we are tired of keeping the standards at the level they need to be. Many times we simply give up and take whatever we can get.

Have you ever walked into your garage and immediately noticed the pungent smell of garbage? If you stayed in the garage long enough, you would adjust to the smell and eventually no longer notice it. That is until someone else walks in and points it out.

While not accommodating poor performance is very important for leaders, it is also true personally. So many times in society, we make adjustments in order to fit in or accept something that is wrong because we don’t want to appear politically incorrect.

Recently, Evi and I listened to a radio drama about a monk named Telemachus. The story was set back in the days of the Roman Empire when the gladiator games were all the rage (long before the movie hit the big screen). Troubled by the sight of thousands assembling to see men fighting and killing one another at the Roman Colosseum, Telemachus tried to convince them that their conduct was wicked and cruel. He stood in front of thousands who were doing what was the socially accepted form of entertainment in that day and challenged them to stop such cruelty. He was immediately struck down and killed. However, his death was not in vain because after the day Telemachus was murdered in the Colosseum, no gladiator fight took place there again.

This may seem like a dramatic example compared to adjusting to a dog’s slight disobedience yet Telemachus recognized that if he didn’t take action, they would continue to adjust their society to a path of moral compromise. His actions contradicted everything his society said was acceptable. People made money from the events and the gladiators were considered mighty heroes. Taking a stand cost Telemachus his life but it changed the Roman society and ultimately the world.

The next time you have to make a tough choice to do the right thing, don’t adjust to your dog—even if that dog is one cute pup looking up at you with big brown eyes saying, “Did I do good, Mom? Uh? Did I? I know I did, right?”

 

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Expectations Vs. Reality

Louie and I took a long walk the other day and ran into our neighbor, Cindy, and her dog, Eve. Cindy invited us into their home to let the dogs play and expend some energy. When we walked in, Eve expected a treat because that’s what they do after she’s been on a walk. So Louie joined her in expecting a treat and both dogs sat perfectly still anticipating their reward.

When Cindy accidentally dropped a dog biscuit on the floor, Louie immediately snatched it and gulped it down. He sat back down again next to Eve and waited for his treat. Cindy knows “Louie speak” and said, “Lou, you already had your treat.”

Eve and Louie

Louie is enthralled with Eve’s beauty and strength! (He’s actually growling at her for attention).

Louie was shocked and replied back, “That wasn’t a treat! That was an accident; you dropped it on the floor and I picked it up. See me properly sitting here? I should get a treat because I’m sitting, just as I have been trained!”

“Sorry, Lou!” Cindy replied. I’m not sure, but later I think Cindy ended up giving him a treat because she can’t resist his big brown eyes. But the initial look on his face when reality set in was classic.

Facing the difference between our expectations and reality is a tough lesson for all of us. We’ve experienced this at Christmas. In our minds, we picture a Norman Rockwell image of a beautiful Christmas tree, a warm, crackling fire in the background, hot chocolate with a perfect dollop of whip cream, and presents stacked up to the ceiling. In reality, it’s rarely like that. While I wanted to believe in Santa forever—dreamer that I am—I had to face the reality that Santa did not exist when I found the box that held my beloved Thumbelina doll in our TV room later on Christmas day.

We’ve all had expectations that a new job would turn out wonderfully, but a year later we must face the reality that it’s not at all what we expected.

So are we setting ourselves up for disappointment by setting our expectations too high? And if so, does that mean we are settling for less and not even trying to reach a higher bar?

Leaders run into this issue all the time with employees, and we also deal with these issues personally. I think setting high expectations is a good thing but several things need to be in place to ensure we are not setting ourselves or anyone else up for failure:

  1. Communication is key: I can’t express enough in this blog or in any talk I give that communication is the key to genuine, authentic relationships. It is very important that we clearly communicate our expectations and in turn, listen to what barriers may get in the way of achieving those expectations. Often we have a picture in mind of what the finished product should look like but we fail to communicate that to others. Then when our expectations are not met, we blame others. In our personal lives, it is even more profound, and can be more costly.
  1. Make sure the expectations align with everyone’s values. Though this may come up while you are engaged in discussions around barriers, it may take additional questioning and going deeper. Many times our struggles are not always obvious in an initial conversation until we’ve had time to reflect on what is expected of us. When we start to feel conflicted, it may be because it doesn’t align with our values or focus. Additional conversation needs to take place, otherwise it may happen in an unproductive, damaging and explosive conversation.
  1. Be realistic: While stretching beyond ourselves is an excellent way to grow, we don’t want to stretch so much that people snap. Be realistic about expectations and setting goals. Give clear timelines and any additional assistance needed to achieve the goals.

The components above apply personally as well. How many times are we disappointed because someone did not give us what we were hoping for? I overheard Louie and his gal pal, Eve, having an interesting conversation around expectations. See if this sounds familiar:

“Happy birthday, Lou!”

“Oh thanks, Eve” he said as he looked behind her for a dog biscuit. When he didn’t see anything else, he looked forlorn.

“What’s wrong?” asked Eve.

“Oh nothing!” sighed Louie.

“Were you expecting something else?”

“No, of course not. You remembering my birthday is more than enough.” Louie feigned a smile, then sighed. “Well, okay, yes, I was hoping for a little more; a treat or something, you know.”

“Oh, no…I didn’t know. You should have said something.”

“Well, if I said something, it would ruin the surprise.”

“What surprise?”

“The surprise I was expecting,” exclaimed Louie.

“Well, how do I know what you are expecting if you don’t tell me what you’re expecting?”

“Because you should just know.”

Oh Louie! The harsh reality that others will not always meet our expectations is a tough lesson to learn. I suggest we not get so fixed on our expectations that we miss the possibility of far exceeding what our minds are capable of imagining. I believe it is good to dream, reach and imagine possibilities for ourselves—just be clear on what you expect of others.