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!

Is There A Dog In The House?

My adopted pup Louie and I had a phenomenal summer and hope you did as well. We were very busy and enjoyed many wonderful adventures with the alpha pups, Evi and Mea. We’re glad to be back, and while Louie may have been on summer break, we were never short on lessons. We are looking forward to sharing more of Louie’s wisdom (and shenanigans) with you over the next several months.

It has been four years almost to the day since I adopted Louie. The memory of our first few weeks together brings a smile to my face even now! We almost didn’t have a “first few weeks together” because of his challenging behaviors, but we pressed through.

When he first came to live with me, he would roam around my house, sniffing and whining. I wondered if he needed to go outside, so I would take him out, let him do his thing, and then bring him back in. A few minutes later, he would run upstairs and then downstairs, whining. “Again?” I thought to myself. “Does he have to go out again? What’s with this dog?” He whined constantly and seemed to be searching for something, anything, familiar to him.

Louie’s visit to the vet, Dr. Paul, for his first health checkup was interesting. Lou whined and shook with fear, but Dr. Paul compassionately continued. “He’s a pretty healthy pup. Any issues that you notice?”

“Yes! He whines! Incessantly! I’ll be working in my office and Louie will be checking out my home. He’ll pop into my office, look around, whine, and go back through the house, whining, whining, constantly whining.”

“Well,” said Dr. Paul, “don’t let him run loose through your home. When you’re not there, crate him, and when you are there, keep him close to you. But don’t let him run through your home.”

“Okay,” I thought, “that’s simple enough.” Because I work from home, I made a bed for him right under my desk and blocked the stairway to the upstairs level. I kept a close watch on him and interacted with him when I was able to do so. Amazingly, his whining and desire to roam around the house stopped, and the sighs and active dreams of a happy pup filled my office.

All Louie needed was a little watchful supervision. He needed to know I was close by. He needed to understand his boundaries and just how far he could safely explore without wandering too far away or getting lost.

Isn’t this just like those we lead? When they first engage with our organizations, we think we are doing them a favor by letting them “roam.” They spend their time “onboarding,” which is good. Yet, much of their time may be spent looking for anything that seems familiar to them, which could cause frustration. Like Louie, they just need a little watchful supervision. They need to know their leader is close by and available when needed. They need to understand their boundaries and that if they make a mistake, it’s OK because, hopefully, the problem is easy to rectify.

The fourth section of the LOUIE leadership model is “I” for investment. The time that I poured into helping Louie build trust and confidence and making him feel safe was an investment. It took some time, but the investment was worth every minute. Leader, you will never regret investing the necessary time and tools in your team to build trust and help them feel safe and to know they are valued.

As I type our first blog of this season, I have no idea where Louie is. He’s in my house but not under my feet. In fact, he is never under my feet these days. Many times, I stand by my front door, hands on my hips, loudly asking, “Is there a dog in the house?” No answer. “Any dog? Is there any dog in the house?” No answer. “Is there any dog in the house who would like to go for a walk?” With that, I hear the rumblings of four squatty little legs running to the front door from any one of his favorite places. He is either upstairs, looking out at his kingdom through the second story window, downstairs in his crate (voluntarily), or out on the deck, sunning himself.

I don’t recommend developing someone to “disappear” as Louie does. Based on The Ken Blanchard Companies’ Situational Leadership II program, you do want to invest the time to develop them to be a self-reliant achiever or peak performer. Louie has developed and progressed enough that he no longer needs my watchful supervision while we’re at home. He trusts that if anything changes, I’ll inform him. For now, he’s just fine—wherever he is!

DID SOMEONE SAY WALK?

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From Little Reminders to Lifelong Memories

It’s not been that long since Louie’s friend Sammy passed. Every time we walk by Sammy’s home, Louie will check out the stake in the ground and attached leash or scope out a lingering smell that I’m sure reminds him of his friend. I can’t help but wonder what he remembers and what he thinks as he looks toward Sammy’s front door. Does he wonder why he hasn’t seen his friend in a while, or does he somehow know Sammy won’t be coming out to play? He seems satisfied with the little reminders of Sammy as we move on with our walk.

I know Louie has a great memory because of all the issues we’ve dealt with over the years in getting him to think differently about people coming to the door, the smell of cigars, or other triggers. I’m sure he remembers Sammy prancing outside to play, Allie greeting him with lots of kisses, and Khaki regally sitting atop the hill, waiting for Sir Louie to arrive. The little reminders of his friends who have passed on seem to fill Louie’s heart and spirit with joy and fondness.

Sometimes we humans tend to rush right past those reminders because we don’t want to dwell in the past, or it may be too painful to park there a moment. But they are nestled in our memories and, many times, those reminders are necessary for our well-being.

I recently visited my brother and his family in Phoenix and had the pleasure of bringing my granddaughter Evi with me. What a joy! In addition to the beauty of Arizona, we really enjoyed visiting Mark, Agnes, and Christian. More times than not I would look across the table at Evi and swear I was looking at her mother, my daughter, Marisa. Mark and I both caught ourselves calling Evi by the endearing name my family calls Marisa—Rissy!

What sparked this thirty-year lapse in memory? The twinkle in Evi’s eyes, her contagious laugh, the way she holds her hand up to her mouth as she tells a story, her facial expressions, and her tone of voice. Her face alone is a replica of Marisa’s—oh, the little reminders.

But it goes deeper. I see my mom in so many ways when I look at Marisa and Evi! And when Mea, my youngest granddaughter, crinkles her nose when she laughs, I see a glimpse of my mom who did the same thing. All these reminders fill my heart with lifelong memories. Those memories open the door to a better understanding of the wisdom that has been passed down through the years. I hear my mom’s voice as I am reminded of the life lessons I’ve learned that have been passed to my daughter and now to her daughters—wisdom like this:

  • You can do whatever you’d like as long as you understand the consequences and are willing to face them (I wish I would have listened to that wisdom a bit more carefully).
  • You don’t need a thousand friends (and this before Facebook). You do need a few good close friends (two to four) with whom you can trust and share life.
  • Look people in the eyes; show them they matter.
  • Never be so upset with someone that you won’t say hello (a kind and genuine hello) to him or her in public.
  • Family matters.

Whether across the table in Phoenix or every time my brothers and sisters share funny stories of our youth with my granddaughters, Evi and Mea, I see my mom and I hear her voice. Through such small and seemingly irrelevant reminders, my heart soars to the heights of a lifelong memory of my mother. I have been blessed that my mom spent significant time with Marisa before she passed. And now I am blessed to share life with my daughter and grandchildren and to watch Marisa blossom into a wonderful, loving mother.

Yes, I am sure Louie relishes the little reminders of his dear friends who have passed on, and it must bring him joy as he taps into a lifelong memory. I see the joy by the way he walks and even in his face. And I have to smile every time I know Louie is enjoying a wonderful memory.

Don’t rush by the little reminders that pop up in the daily haste to the next thing. You’ll be missing a soul refresher, a spark of a wonderful, lifelong memory. And in our hurried world, we all need these refreshing little reminders.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms making memories (doggie moms included).

 

Mick reminding Louie it is good to slow down!

For Louie’s faithful friends…Thank You!!

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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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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!

IMG_1208

 

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.

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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