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.

What Is It About Alpha Girls, Lou?

Louie loves his alpha girls, and there are several in this neighborhood. There’s Kaki, who nudges her nose against Lou to let him know she loves him and then completely ignores him. There’s Eve, who has no problem with letting Louie know she has had enough of playtime. Ellie throws her paws around him and loves to run and play. And then there’s Snickers, who wants nothing to do with him.

I am the alpha of the alpha girls in Louie’s world, and although there are times when Lou tries to exercise his independence, he is absolutely in love with me—and I with him.

My question is twofold. What is it about alpha girls that makes them so alpha? And what is it about them that has Louie so Alpha Evienthralled?

First, I’m not sure many women would deem themselves alpha girls. Yet many are, and although this is usually a good thing, it can sometimes be devastating. Over the span of my career, I have been blessed to know many strong women and have noticed an interesting phenomenon: few strong women, myself included, have truly achieved balance. I’m not talking about work–life balance, or “integration”; it goes beyond that. There always seems to be something off-kilter that we as women want to straighten out or bring into balance, yet it eludes us.

But on this journey, if we remain diligent, there is a sweet spot that allows us to walk in harmonious balance: strength without being pushy, boldness without overpowering others, and humility without appearing weak. Every woman’s quest for that sweet spot leads her on a journey of struggle and change, which can be difficult and yet incredibly freeing and rewarding.

So many times we stop just short of finding this sweet spot. A driving force takes over, and we feel that if we don’t propel ourselves to the top, running over others along the way, then we simply will not survive. That’s the lie many women today have bought into. I believe the antidote to being pushy, rude, and weak is simply love, joy, and peace.

  • It takes strength to love others. Love is the ultimate test of strength. This is the deepest desire of every being, human and pets. When you truly love other people, you care more about them than you do about yourself. It is nearly impossible to be pushy with them. Instead, you care more about serving
  • When we think of boldness, we think of someone blasting on the scene, taking a stand, and being brave. Tip that boldness over the edge a bit, and you end up running over others and being rude. Joy is our elated response to experiences of life, even when life is tough. It is our response and deep satisfaction when we are able to serve others, not as an obligation but because our heart prompts us to do so. When we have true joy in our heart, rudeness cannot emerge.
  • Humility is the toughest characteristic to maintain, but once it is, inner peace is achieved. And when you’re at peace, it doesn’t matter if someone thinks you are weak.

I would like to see more women strive to balance strength, boldness, and humility by honing the character strengths of love, joy, and peace. We can do it!

As for why Louie loves alpha girls—they challenge him to be strong, brave (or bold), and fun (which equates to inner peace in Louie’s world). One of his favorite alphas was his gal pal Ali. When she was outside, he could see her all the way down the street and would whine and pull to get a chance to dance around the front yard with her. She loved to play rough with Louie. He learned a little trick; he could stand just far enough away that her leash wouldn’t allow her to reach him. His ears would go back, and he was on alert. She would stretch to get closer to him. Then, he would ease closer, and the dance would begin. He’d back up and then move closer—they truly enjoyed playing together.

Alpha Ali

Alpha Ali

Over the winter Ali slowed down quite a bit. When they were able to get outside, Ali would display spurts of energy but would let Louie move outside her range without any challenge. Then one day, Ali’s mom tearfully shared that Ali was no longer with us. This broke our hearts because she was so full of life and had been a big part of our community for many years.

Now, each time we pass her home, Louie looks to see if she’s outside and then whines. He looks at the front door to see if she is watching with her favorite toy in her mouth—but no Ali. He even checks her yard for any recent smells. It’s tough losing your best-ever alpha girl, but the love Ali gave to Louie and anyone she came in contact with was truly a gift. Being a great alpha girl, she challenged Louie to be a better, stronger, and more playful dog, and we are forever thankful.

Strive to walk in the balance of strength, boldness, and humility. Choose love, joy, and peace. In this sweet spot, you will impact others’ lives for the better, thereby truly making a difference in our world.

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Contact: danise@di-advisors.com

Louie, You’re Fired; The Need To End Well

IMG_0828Louie is a superstar in his training class, and he actually understands his training commands at home. He welcomes guests when they enter my home—thanks to training him with a delicious special treat—and sits patiently while they enter. He waits to be released and then slowly examines my guests, starting at their feet. He’s learned not to jump, although he get excited and must be reminded constantly to settle down.

Despite the amount of time and work we’ve invested, he has one consistently bad behavior. Once someone is settled in at the table or on the couch, if they make a move to go into the kitchen or the bathroom, he will charge after them. Obviously, this is unacceptable behavior! No one believes Louie does this until they see it happen.

Louie and I have discussed this problem: we have asked neighbors to practice with us; I have been extremely firm with him when he goes after guests; and finally I’ve removed him from the activity. Yet this behavior persists.

I know he is being territorial, and I attribute it to the fact that he has it so good here that he doesn’t want to share it. But at this point, if Louie were my employee, I would fire him!

Or would I?

Many times our star performers demonstrate a consistently bad behavior, and we make excuses for them. We ignore the bad behavior as long as they continue to perform. In addition, we will excuse the behavior of others who aren’t performing simply because we love them. Basically, we avoid disengaging with employees because it is never easy and it almost always gets ugly.

I had a friend who was in the process of disengaging with an employee. “We must end this well,” were his words and they resonated with my heart. Not very many leaders care about ending well. They want to eliminate the “poison” as quickly as possible and finally have a good team.

This reminded me of the saying, “All’s well that ends well.” Endings are necessary but a “good” ending is essential. Even if things have not gone well, ending a relationship (whether it’s personal or professional) in a positive and growth-promoting way can repair things.

Often we recognize that an ending is imminent but instead of doing the hard work to end things well, we lapse into fear, insecurity and pride, which leads to a reactionary response. Sometimes quick terminations are best but even then, seeking to end things well is necessary in order to benefit everyone involved, even other employees.

What does ending well look like? Without getting into human resource debates, each individual situation should be handled differently. I’d like to challenge leaders if it is clear that an employee is not the best fit for the position, then have an honest conversation about it. This is, of course, risky. But it is better than turning into the Queen (or King) of Hearts, wielding an axe, and yelling, “Off with their head,” because someone shared their feelings about things not working out. It is important to always end well. It is not easy, but for the sake of your culture, it is very important. When it’s possible, preserve the personal relationship even if the professional one has to end. This goes for friendships, too. Don’t burn bridges and try to avoid bitterness and regret when relationships evolve.

Since this is a dog blog, I’ve also reflected on the end of life for all of my pups. How do you end well? It is heart wrenching to take that last drive to the vet and carry them in your arms, knowing it will be the last time you hold them. As tough as that decision was for each dog I’ve loved, I knew when it was time. I made sure I was nose to nose with my pup so they could look into my eyes as their life slowly slipped away. I wanted them to know they were deeply loved, and I was intentional about ending well.

As for Louie, of course, I will not be firing him any time soon so I’m not accepting requests for his resume at this time. He does make office visits and is a stellar dog in the workplace. And you are welcome to come to my home anytime…at your own risk!

 Louie acts a bit like this fellow…

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Louie is Afraid of Big, Black Dogs!

Louie and I just finished our first night of training and much to my surprise he was a superstar. In fact, the trainer took him to the middle of the arena and practiced with him as the model dog. I was shocked and wished I could have grabbed my phone to take a picture. At first, he was a little apprehensive when she took hold of his leash but as soon as she circled him around to face me, he performed like a champ. He trotted in grand style, sat when he was told to sit, and did everything he and I practiced over the last week. I was amazed.

Something strange happened at the end of our training time. There was a very high level of energy in the facility while other groups of dogs were coming in as the previous class disbanded. Louie immediately picked up on this. He became very anxious and started a very low soft growl at the large black lab he had stood next to all night long. I immediately responded by correcting him and removed him from the ring. Crisis averted! We trotted off and headed for home.

This reminded me of something I’ve noticed about Louie. He seems very fearful of large black or dark brown dogs. I recognize this may be due to an aggressive stand the other dog may take toward him. But there are a few large black or chocolate labs who frighten Louie even if they are just walking with their owners. Sometimes, if the dog locks eyes with Lou he will take on a macho attitude and act like he’s tougher than he looks.

I’m not sure where this comes from except that Louie has a very good memory. He remembers the cat from whom he took a beating; he remembers a man and cigar smoke because a neighbor walks his dogs while smoking cigars and Louie has a very strong reaction to the smell even when the man is nowhere in sight. So some time in his past, Louie must have had a negative experience with a large black dog.

There are a couple exceptions to this fear. There is a large dark brown Doberman down the street named Rowan who is really good friends with Louie. They love to romp around with each other. Louie is so short, he fits right underneath Rowan, but apparently neither one of them have noticed. While the power of relationships is not a new phenomenon to me, I realize how important relationships are in helping dogs overcome their fears of other dogs. Much like humans, dogs remember things that frighten them or make them uncomfortable. And they will react with fear or anxiety the next time they encounter a similar situation.

When Louie first met Rowan, I sensed this might happen. However, to change that reaction, I asked Rowan’s dad if Louie could check him out. He was more than happy to have Rowan sit so we could approach him very slowly and cautiously. Louie clearly sensed that Rowan was not an aggressive dog, and consequently they became friends.

This tendency to react strongly and often unconsciously to others is also typical of humans. Sometimes experiences have made us apprehensive of certain kinds of people—right or wrong. Unlike dogs, though, humans are easily taught not to trust or like another, and that message stays with us for a lifetime.

Unfortunately, those prejudices prevent us from building authentic relationships with people purely based on a bad experience with one person or what we have been wrongly taught over the years. Our world continues to witness the damage prejudging others has caused. And while it may seem almost too simple, being intentional about building relationships will dispel wrongful thoughts. It takes strength to not allow prejudices to control us or direct our actions and it takes courage to get out of our comfort zone.

Once Louie has an opportunity to get to know a dog of whom he might normally be frightened, he relaxes and starts to build a relationship. Now if I can just get him to drop the tough macho act, we’ll be making real progress.

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Watch Louie and his pal Rowan!

Read Steppin’ Out Of My Skin: Dispel Prejudices, Embrace the Power of Relationships

“Racial relations in America continue to be one of the country’s most challenging issues. Applause goes to Danise DiStasi for highlighting what an enormous block prejudice is and for suggesting ways it can be transmuted. Read and learn!”

Ken Blanchard, co-author of The One Minute Manager and The On Time, On Target Manager

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I’m Not Jumping Through Hoops Anymore!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

VIDEO: The Great Escape!

Louie has something to say about that!

I have something to say about that!

I have something to say about that!

 

What a great summer we’ve had. Louie’s made several friends, had tiring play dates at Camp Bow Wow, and has enjoyed playing with the alpha pups. I’ve managed more writing projects than originally planned and have enjoyed time with many new clients.

Some of you have met Louie and are familiar with how much he likes to talk. If you live in our neighborhood, you can hear him all the way down the street because he’s so vocal. Well, I’ve learned Louie has something to say! In fact, he has something to say about a number of topics–very important topics like why doesn’t the little dog down the street like him (you know who you are), what it’s like to be led by a servant leader, how to have a highly productive pack (and have everyone get along), why it’s good to stare out the window, why love trust and respect are important in the work place…and his favorite, how to mentor alpha pups!

He’s finishing his vacation (Oh, boy! Oh, boy!) and will be back soon (with a little surprise)!