Lead Like Louie: Are You Giving Mixed Signals?

I adopted my dog, Louie, five years ago and embarked on a journey that I was unprepared for. Admittedly, our journey was not an easy one. I wish I could say it began with warm fuzzy feelings and puppy kisses, but that isn’t true. The truth is that when I first adopted Louie, he displayed many challenging behaviors that made me question my decision to adopt him, yet something incredible happened once we engaged a dog trainer. I wasn’t only learning dog-training techniques; I was experiencing leadership development through an entirely unconventional method that proved to be beneficial to Louie and me—and even more so for my clients.

As Louie and I journeyed together, I had no idea I was walking through specific stages of leadership. I wanted this dog to be loving and loyal. Many times, I will admit that seemed almost impossible, but we persevered.

Leadership Model

As I looked back over the years, I saw a pattern in our lessons. And then I saw the stages unfold and a leadership model emerge. Thanks to Louie, I’ve learned the real value of leadership, and our journey together has revealed how to develop leaders successfully. This simple yet effective model combines the leadership experience that I’ve had over the last several decades with extensive leadership research and presents the most essential leadership requirements:

  • Love, trust, and respect are foundational in leadership.
  • Objectives and goals are needed to provide direction, strategy, and alignment.
  • Understanding others and ourselves is key to working through conflict.
  • Investment in building relationships is important in developing leaders.
  • Empowerment and encouraging your team to thrive and succeed.

We have been sharing this model over the years through heartwarming stories of courage and love as well as techniques for overcoming common issues such as pride, fear, doubt, bullying, and numerous others—all seen through eye-opening experiences with my rescue dog. We will share more of these stories in future blogs.

Mixed Signals

Louie has come a long way, but there is still one behavior that I cannot train or discipline out of him, and that is how he greets guests at the door. He’s awful. He growls, barks, jumps, and will even grab a piece of clothing. He never bites, but he can be scary. Also, I have tried everything from making him stay in his place (never works), to keeping him in the kitchen until the guest comes in (hmm, works okay), to just keeping him out of sight.

One day a friend of mine came to drop some things off and say hello to Louie. Louie has known her for years, but he did his usual bark and scary growl. I gave him a firm, “Settle,” but she was behind me talking sweetly to him. He paid attention to neither of us. Why should he? We were giving him mixed signals. He made a decision to go his own way, and it wasn’t working for any of the parties involved.

We finally ignored him, and he eventually did settle, but this incident gave me PAWS as I thought about leadership. As leaders are we sending mixed signals to our direct reports? Are we firm and then sweet and then firm, causing confusion about our leadership style? Our employees can be somewhat like Louie, who needs consistency to build trust. I’ve become much more aware of being consistent when working with Louie because having him trust me is the overarching objective to our time together.

We’re still working on his behavior at the door, but one thing is certain: Louie is a loving and loyal dog. He hasn’t always been that way, and we’ll share more of that journey and the leadership lessons that stem from it in the future.

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