Who’s Leading Whom?

Louie has had an annoying habit since the day I adopted him almost six years ago. I cannot train it out of him, and I cannot coax it out of him. It’s almost as if it’s in his DNA and he seems to be clueless about this behavior.

What is the annoying habit? He walks right in front of me. On our walks, he usually stays beside me, but he will cross paths in a blink of an eye right in front of my feet. This is not only annoying but also frustrating, and he will frequently trip me. When that happens, I am then annoyed, frustrated, and embarrassed because I tripped over my dog. I have to do a quick course correction, tug on his collar, and move him back into position by my side. He looks at me with total surprise on his face, and I can almost hear him ask, “What?”

I decided to pay attention to what is happening when he steps in front of me. When he is on the short leash, he knows to stay to my left side as we were taught in training. Many times, I will put him on an extended leash so he can run from one interesting sniffing spot to the next. This is when we run into problems. (My dog training friends are nodding their heads.)

Even on the extended leash, he often does a great job of staying by my side. He will look at me as though to ask permission to stop and sniff. A nod of my head is all he needs for him to venture off to the fascinating world of dogs and their smells. And from there, he will run out ahead of me to lead the way for the rest of the walk. That is a no-no for owners who have dogs–like Louie–who need reminding of who is the leader.

Subtle Clues

I recently realized that when Louie is walking by my side, I do something that is ever so subtle. I switch the handle of the extended leash in my hands from my left (where Louie is walking) to my right. And although there isn’t a noticeable tug, there is an ever-so-slight shift that Louie cues into, and shortly thereafter he crosses my path.

Sadly, as a leader, I have done this many times—sending a subtle signal to go in one direction and then getting upset when a team member goes in that direction, tripping others up and necessitating a course correction.

I had to take a hard look at myself on an even deeper level. Don’t I act like this with God? Don’t I get an ever-so-slight tug to go in a certain direction, and, before you know it, I am off and running way ahead of God? There is a difference though: God’s tugs are intentional, and I am sure I am the only one getting tripped when I run ahead.

Be Aware

I’ve learned a few valuable lessons about leadership (and life, for that matter) because of Louie’s annoying habit of crossing in front of me:

  1. Be aware of the subtle shifts you make and the cues you send.
  2. If you want your team to stay aligned, you must stay the course with clear direction.
  3. If you notice yourself sending subtle messages or shifting course, stop it!

One of the biggest lessons I have learned with my adopted pup is the need for self-awareness. When I am frustrated with Louie’s annoying behavior, it is time for me to step back and take an inventory of myself. I have to address my leadership behaviors, and only then can I adequately help him with his behaviors.

I am never at a loss for lessons, thanks to Louie. He is so patient with me as I learn and develop valuable life and leadership tools.

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