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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You Can’t Make Me Something I Don’t Want to Be!

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Louie was not having it. He planted all four paws on the floor and would not move an inch. His face let me know he was not pleased. At all.

“Louie,” I said sternly as I tried to squeeze his 40 pounds of muscle where it didn’t want to go. “This is only for two hours, if that. Surely you can oblige me.”

I sat back and stared at him, exasperated. For the last few Halloweens, I’ve donned a Cruella de Vil look and spent the evening with my grandchildren. This year I thought it would be fun to take Louie along in a Dalmatian outfit. Except there were no Dalmatian costumes for dogs. The closest thing I could find was a child’s costume for a spotted cow.

I had imagined how it would turn out. Louie might not share my enthusiasm for this creative costume. But he’d forget all about it when he set eyes on my granddaughters, Evi and Mea. He’d jump out of the car and happily trot with them along the street, greeting other children, trying to get a peek into their candy loot. I just knew Louie would have more fun than he could imagine if he could just push through wearing a silly cow outfit and look as much like a Dalmatian as he could.

I also imagined it would make a great blog lesson: all about pressing through uncomfortable situations to enjoy the outcome. Sounds good, right?

BEING SOMEONE WE’RE NOT

cruella-and-the-girls-oh-and-louBut none of that happened. Yes, Lou was happy to see Evi and Mea. He did enjoy it when other children came up to love on him. But he hated his costume and was mad at me the entire time. He wouldn’t even pose for a picture, and believe me, that’s not like him.

I finally took the costume off and let him be Louie.

Too often we find ourselves being something we don’t want to be. Maybe it’s of our own doing — because we think we need to fit in, and it requires being someone “different.” But often it’s because someone else expects us to be different than what we are.

Maybe it’s a negative thing: a boss requires us to be something based on their own insecurities. Or maybe it’s positive: a leader sees potential in us that we don’t see or can even imagine, and they want to coach us to be better.

No matter the reason, we resist because it is uncomfortable to be something we are not. We don’t want to don a costume and fake it.

CAN’T MAKE ANYONE CHANGE

It’s tough to balance being authentic and at the same time develop beyond mediocrity toward excellence. It can feel like donning a facade and “faking it till we make it.” What should leaders do to help folks grow?

If you’re in a position of leadership, you can suggest someone continue to develop. You can provide tools, mentoring, and ongoing training. But you can’t make them be something they don’t want to be. Each person is responsible for taking that first step to wanting to make significant changes in their lives.

Still, there are ways to influence those in whom you see potential. For example:

  • Watch to see whether the person shows an eagerness to learn and grow, i.e., reading books and asking for help.
  • Ask them where do they see themselves going? What is their end goal?
  • Share with them what potential you see in them.
  • Be sure your expectations align with their skillset and desires.
  • If their end goal and desires outweigh their skillset, place them on a realistic development plan and be clear about expectations.

GREATER THAN THEY IMAGINE

When Louie and I arrived back home, he was one tired pup. He slinked upstairs to his little bed to lay down. His expression told me he was still traumatized by the costume. But as I knelt down to give him a kiss, I looked into his eyes and saw a little spark.

It was a look that said, “If you are trying to make me be something different than who I am, at least make me a lion!”

And with that, he tucked his head into the fold of his front paw and fell fast asleep. No doubt, that evening he dreamt of being a lion.

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Louie the lion…hear me roar!

 

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Don’t Get Caught Up In The Cat Fight, Lou!

Louie and I went for an early morning walk. I was eager to get in some exercise ahead of a busy client day. Just as we crossed the street in front of a wooded area, I heard a screeching sound, as though two cats were fighting. Without hesitation, Lou ran as fast as he could in the opposite direction. He didn’t look around. He didn’t stop. He just took off jethrorunning. Once Lou was at the end of the leash, his body stopped, but his legs kept going. I had to laugh because he reminded me of The Jetsons with Jethro, the dog, on the treadmill.

Only when he felt we were at a safe distance did he turn to look back with a worried look on his face. He would have nothing to do with cats, much less getting in the middle of their fight. As we walked at our usual clipped pace, I thought, “Louie is a very smart dog.” Oh, if only we humans could learn to run as fast as we can when others try to pull us into arguments.

Conflict certainly happens with our friends or families, but it is very disruptive when it happens with our teams. It creates dissension and stagnates creativity and productivity, not to mention what it does to the cultural health of an organization.

We would love to offer our assistance when two coworkers are fighting so that we can feel good about helping, yet it is not always that simple or straightforward. Sometimes, it is best to run in the other direction, just as Louie does.

There are other times, though, we may be able to offer help. In my coaching practice, I often listen to employees or leaders vent about conflict or upsetting situations. Executive coaching may appear to be different from dealing with coworkers, but I have found the following process extremely helpful:

  • Venting – People need a place to vent. Sometimes, being able to verbally process helps us let off some steam and get a clearer perspective.
  • Listening – Lend an empathetic ear and listen to the person. Let them know you care about their situation yet you care more about the relationship.
  • Reframing – Many times when someone is upset about something, he or she may not always see a different perspective of the situation. You could help that person by asking questions such as, what if the other person were challenging you with a different intent than what you assume? What is your responsibility in the situation? Could it be that the other person did not intend to upset you? Reframe the situation and help them to see a different perspective.
  • Envisioning – Envisioning will help them to see what it would look like if they were sitting across the table from the person they are in conflict with, and talking one-on-one. This is very helpful for the person to visualize a tough conversation before he or she actually does. Again, it gives them an entirely different perspective.

Sometimes Louie’s method is actually the best. There are many times when it is not worth getting in the middle of two people who are fighting. No matter what you try to do to help, you might find that it will backfire on you.

Before you take that step in helping people resolve a conflict, you need to make sure that they are willing to work at it and to understand that the end goal is to mend the relationship. Some people have no intentions of reconciling, and it makes it tough to work with them. The catfight will revolve around who was right and who was wrong—and there will be no resolution to the conflict.

Louie does the first two steps very well. He lets me talk things out and listens intently, with those big, brown, soulful eyes. Then with a sweet content look on his face, he yawns and moves on. That’s a signal to me it’s time to get over whatever it was that upset me and to deal with the situation. Thanks, Lou, for such wisdom!

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