At the risk of sounding flippant, I am about to share some of the leadership lessons I have learnt from my dog. Life lessons can often come in the most surprising packages. In my case it was an 8 week old Cairn Terrier puppy.
Seven months ago my children decided that my life was not complete without a dog. Our family had always included a dog. However, I was unsure if I was ready for the responsibility of a puppy and I was still grieving for the loss of our last dog Baci. As fate would have it my daughter was home recovering from a hip operation, with plenty of time to research the “perfect” dog. One day, against my better judgement,she cajoled me into a 90 minute drive to Gisborne (North West Victoria), just to have a look at a puppy and to decide if we liked the breed. There she was a docile 8 week old buddle of joy. All alone, the only one in the litter. Abandoned by her mother who had returned home to her family. To add to this forlorn spectacle, her tail had been broken at birth and had been recently amputated. There was little doubt that she would be coming home with us that afternoon. Lola was my special birthday present.
Lola settled in nicely. Like all puppies she became the centre of attention and it soon became apparent that Lola and I needed to go to training school. All our previous dogs had been far more compliant. With Lola there was a leadership battle on the horizon.
I have studied leadership. I have researched leadership. I have coached leaders. However, there is always something new to learn or relearn.
Our first lesson at puppy school was about pack leadership. Jon, our trainer, said that our puppies needed clear and consistent feedback about our expectations. Our puppies would be asking themselves “Are you fit to be my leader?” For some dogs this leadership challenge can persist and for others it is quite obvious that the dog has won the title. As far as Lola is concerned, I am the leader sometimes and when it suits her she assumes the role. Lola belongs to a breed that is “brave n’bold, wi’a heart o’gold”. She is a “little” dog with a “big” personality. Personality traits that I suspect do not embrace the leadership of others readily.
If you have people in your organisation with these traits, it takes effort and skill to bring them on board. You need to prove you are fit to lead. This challenge is most obvious with new leaders. Communicating a vision for the future, establishing trust and rapport, discovering what works and what needs to change, takes time and capability. However, if you don’t get the people part of it right, be assured it will continue to dog your influence.
One of the most important lesson Lola has taught me, is about the voice of leadership.
Many of you will have seen Professor Albert Mehrabin’s communication model. Where the impact of our communication is 7% verbal (words) 38% Vocal (volume, tone etc) 55% Body movement (facial expressions etc) There is controversy about the percentages involved, however the importance of this model is to be an effective communicator you need consider and align your words, voice and body. People still assume that the words they speak is the message that people hear. Effective communication is the core of success in all areas of life.
In my experience effective leaders are usual clear in their communication. They are calm, centred and fully present when they communicate. They have thought about the outcome they would like from the conversation and their tone of voice reflects their intention. When effective leaders talk, people listen.
I have really had to pay attention to asserting this voice of leadership with Lola. It seems she doesn’t speak English, so I have had to rely heavily on my voice and my body language. It is very embarrassing when your dog ignores you and does their own thing, especially in public. It is a bit like when your children misbehave in when they are out. I have learnt to be clear in my expectations and to give timely feedback. Yes a reward when she does the right thing and a consequence when she disobeys. Most of all I am learning to stay calm when she runs off with another dog’s squeaky toy. Yes I have worked out strategies. I have my own squeaky toy and delicious treats in my pocket. I also watch out for the warning signs, when she becomes so totally absorbed with her play mates and pleasing me is no longer important. Leadership is hard work. It is also rewarding and can be fun.