Thursday, November 7, 2013

Leadership and...Love?


 recently adopted a dog...a sweet, seemingly docile, hound. Although I love dogs, I had made the decision not to get another one. This was not for the typical reasons like too much work and responsibility, or lack of motivation on my part to provide the dog plenty of exercise. I just could not handle watching another dog I loved die. I had been through that heart wrenching experience enough times.

But then I encountered an abandoned mutt with big brown eyes and a sweet temperament (at least in his cage). I tossed my concerns aside, brought him home and named him Louie DiStasi. I soon discovered that Louie brought a lot of emotional baggage to the relationship. He demonstrated behaviors that deeply concerned me. While acting like an overly protective dog when visitors came to the house, I later learned he was masking something. I immediately engaged a dog trainer and quickly realized I needed training as much as Louie did, if not more so.

I’m not afraid of tough lessons, and I’m always looking for ways to improve my leadership skills.  Every week I read a new blog post or article on how to be a better leader. Spending time with Louie and learning how to lead him has been far more impactful than anything I’ve read. I’m a hands-on learner, and my experience with Louie has been a life changer. Bottom line, Louie needs acceptance, consistency, discipline and above all, unconditional love. It is a need every human being on this earth has, whether we admit it or not. Here are some things I’ve learned:
  • Like people, Louie needs unconditional love. But sometimes his baggage gets in the way. When I chose to adopt him, I chose the whole package – baggage and all. I quickly learned his macho behavior actually hid his fear and insecurity. Many leaders, myself included, hide behind fear and insecurity and try to act confident. I experienced the freedom of letting go of that act many years ago. Louie is slowly learning this, as well, but it will take time. When we are in relationship with others, we must press through and work out any issues. We simply cannot move out of relationship with them because their baggage is inconvenient. And we all bring baggage.
  • Body language is a powerful communicator. It is not enough that I provide Louie with secure shelter, healthy food and affection. These things are important but they don’t necessarily communicate love to him. Like people, he notices tone, body language and facial expressions. He knows that when my voice is firm, I mean business. And he knows how my tone changes when I give him praise. A good leader communicates love, not only with their words but more importantly, with their actions.
  • Consistency is key. Good leaders (and good dog owners) are calm, controlled, safe and consistent. While it may feel like love to let Louie climb on my bed or turn my shoes into his personal chew toys, it is not. Good leaders give clear guidelines, set appropriate boundaries and respect individual personalities. 
  • Both dogs and people require patience and kindness.  As the Scripture says, love is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged.  It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance*. As leaders, it’s not enough for our teams to get a paycheck, a nice office, and a few perks here and there. They need to know they are loved; that you care more about them than just the processes, plans and bottom line (But, the bottom line always improves when leaders love their employees!) 
  • Genuine love is not for the weak. It takes strength and courage. Some may assert that loving dogs is easier than loving people and perhaps it is. But we are commanded to love one another.  This is not an admonition commonly found in leadership manuals or in business schools, but without it, you will likely fail. Take time this week to reflect on how to truly and boldly love others. 
Despite his baggage, I’ve grown to love Louie. And because I’ve invested in him, he’s becoming a better dog. And I’m becoming a better leader! Love is the foundation of our relationships and trust is a building block. Louie knows I love him AND that I’m in charge. Who knew I had to learn to be an Alpha dog! We’ll talk about that next time!
* 1 Corinthians 13

Louie is a rescue that is part beagle, corgi and basset hound. To protect his identity, I’ve provided a pretty good likeness of him, smile and all!