Why a dog matters to your leadership style

This picture was taken just days after I got Grace. She wore a harness because she had escaped from a collar while at her foster home and had remained outdoors for a few weeks, not allowing anyone to catch her. I wanted to make sure she became familiar with her new surroundings so that she would know this was her home before allowing her off-leash, a process that took many months.

I’m in the midst of redesigning my website. One of the primary goals is to integrate this blog so it has the same look and feel as the website. Which means I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about how to articulate why this dog-inspired blog should beintegrated to my consulting practice. One might wonder how they are related at all!

I’ve had dogs most of my life, but when I found Grace in 2005, something was different. There was almost an immediate – and ongoing – connection between my experiences with her and my work. It was kinda strange, but also very intriguing. At the time, I wrote a few articles for my monthly newsletter, but I never published those stories. Time passed but the feeling I had about this connection didn’t.

Fast forward to February 2011 when a marketing consultant and I were having a conversation. After I told her that I just kept thinking of all the parallels, she encouraged me to write about Grace. So I did. (Thank you, Annie.) When I sit down to write these posts, the inspiration comes so easily. I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about what I’m going to say before I start; somehow the ideas find their way effortlessly from my fingers to the keyboard.

The person helping me with the website redesign suggested I come up with a list of 20 reasons why the connection between dogs and leadership were important to me. That list quickly outnumbered 20! But the list was wordy and not very clever. I felt stuck (and still do) with coming up with a catchy, meaningful phrase. (I welcome any suggestions!)

This was taken the other night, a peaceful Grace with her favorite squirrel toy close by in her comfy bed. The best managers mentor employees, placing a priority and focus on professional development. I

Mostly, I feel that all things are connected in our lives. The way we approach a problem with our dog is going to be the same as the way we approach a situation as a manager. (I can see some of you shaking your head in disagreement about that one. That deserves its own post where I can share lots of examples.)

We learn best from real-life experiences and will have a greater appreciation for those things that are familiar and dear to us. I’ve had people tell me that even though they don’t currently have a dog, they understand the connections I’m making with situations in the workplace.

I also believe that our learning doesn’t happen in isolation. We don’t have to attend a seminar on leadership to learn about leadership. We can witness situations with other people – or dogs – and gain valuable knowledge and skills.

One obvious example is how Grace’s fearful nature impacts her interactions with others, especially small children. She will either cower or strike, depending on the severity of the situation where she feels backed into a corner. And that is no different in a workplace. When an employee feels threatened, likely in more subtle ways from something that may appear completely benign, such as receiving constructive feedback about their performance, they may shut down or act out. Understanding where they are coming from will help navigate the best outcomes.

Watching this video makes me laugh at how simple it seems on the surface — what dog wouldn’t follow your hand for a treat? But often we forget that the simplest things must be mastered before we can learn more challenging tasks. This easy exercise was recommended by our agility instructor to get Grace familiar with moving in different directions. If managers skip the foundation, nothing worthwhile can be built.

I’ve always loved facilitating strong and constructive relationships in the workplace, whether as a manager or a team member. I’ve made mistakes and had some grand accomplishments.

Whitefish, oat, and vegetable muffins
Yesterday I made three dozen whitefish, oat, and vegetable muffins for Grace, as part of my new attempt to feed her healthy (and homemade) food, something I never imagined doing before learning more about a dog’s nutritional needs. This is particularly significant since I don

And with Grace, the same is true. I’ve made mistakes. I’ve also had some big successes in her development. It’s been a rewarding journey that has a long way to go.

My hope is that as I share these events, we can benefit and learn together. As we enter this new year, I look forward to discovering new experiences with Grace — and with all of you. Your perspective, feedback, ideas, information, and support that you offer is so helpful, not just to me, but to others. Combining shared wisdom is much more powerful (and fun)!

That’s a model I’d like to set for workplace environments, too.

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10 comments

  1. Tammy Lenski says:

    Robin, as I pondered your words in this post, I found myself returning again and again to the same phrase in my mind: The connection between supporting a dog’s development and leadership is related to “a way of being” in the world. I see that in you — the way you are in the world and in your work and with Grace has a cohesiveness, a substance that bridges all of them. I wish I could find better words but I do feel sure that you’re way of being in the world is authentic in all parts of your life and work. I think, too, it’s one of the things that people treasure about you.

  2. I’m glad to see you are integrating the blog and your website and I do think the insights you share here should be part of your consulting practice. I like the way the dog-inspired pieces bring concepts like leadership into a more “real” place free from the corporate-speak that has dominated the field for so many years. Of course being a dog-lover and long-time HR pro, I can relate very easily to the ideas you present here, but I also think these ideas are easily understood by others with different backgrounds. Dogs have a long history of bringing down human barriers and creating understanding (e.g., therapy dogs), so why not in leadership consulting too.

    • Laurie, what a great analogy with the therapy dogs! I find your perspective so helpful, thank you very much for contributing as it really helps to see the connection validated through your lens, along with Tammy and LeeAnn. I do think it’s special that we all love dogs so much, but it’s bigger than that, as has been expressed by each of you, that it’s bringing a greater understanding of “being” to our worlds. And it’s one that I respect in each of you.

  3. LeeAnn says:

    Robin – one of the reasons I am drawn here is that I so love the idea of a world in which people address animals as they do humans – with kindness and respect. You provide a wonderful example of such a world and bridge the two settings so beautifully – between your life with Grace and your profession. I like Tammy’s use of the word “authentic” as it also seems clear to me that you carry your kindness, gentleness and patience through all aspects of your life. I look forward to continuing to learn from you and Grace!

  4. spiderpaw says:

    As one who owns his own business and has employees, I can so relate to this blog Robin. It is such a shame that it has taken me ten years to acquire the same knowledge that you have dispensed in a year. Oh well, better late than never. I really like this blog because if one were to take out the “workplace” aspect of your posts, the messages are the same because what we are really talking about here is life, and Grace is your life, so the parallels are fitting. Great job Robin and I look forward to seeing the new site.

    • Lionel, thanks so much for your comment. Your words make me happy in knowing that others see these messages as all about our life. I’ve always been fascinated by business operations; but always was on my mind that people turn the wheels of a business, so you can’t separate one from the other. And when I started to see how the things I did with my dog were so related to how I did things in business, the light bulb went off for me. I hope you already know this, but the people who work in your company are lucky to have you lead them.

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