Grace's story and how she has influenced my work
I've had dogs my entire life, but Grace was different. I knew when I adopted her that she was timid, but I had no idea how deep her fear was, nor how that would play out for us. My attempts to manage her were not working. When I reached out to the experts for help, it became clear pretty quickly that Grace wasn’t the problem: I needed to change my ways.
And that was the 'a-ha' moment of the first leadership lesson she taught me. Far too often managers expect the employee to be the one to make all the changes, which was exactly the mistake I was making. I wanted others "to fix my dog" but Grace was trying to tell me that she couldn't survive in the environment I was creating for her.
Her start in life
Grace was a shy, 20-lb reddish-haired Chihuahua mix, born in 2004 on the streets in Puerto Rico. Lonely and fearful, she was found in a vacant building parking lot as a young pup, estimated to be about four months old at the time. Caring shelter workers took her to Second Chance Animal Rescue in Villalba, Puerto Rico, where she stayed for a few months to acclimate to a life off the streets. In spring of 2005, a stateside fostering agency partnered with the Puerto Rican shelter, transported Grace (called Tammy at the time) to southern New Hampshire to find her a permanent place to live.
Life together starts
The first time I saw Grace, I adored her. I loved her medium size, the soft, floppy ears, the rich amber color of her short hair accented with touches of white that sat perfectly on her nose and adorned each paw precisely. Her round, expressive eyes won me over.
She came home with me on June 1, 2005. Though shy, I expected her to take a few days to settle in. But within the first month, she had nipped at the face of a toddler and on a separate occasion growled at a friend who had come over to visit. I knew I needed help, so I was referred to a veterinarian that specialized in behavior issues. I was excited to go and have her "fix this dog." As I sat listening to the vet's observations and recommendations, I quickly realized that Grace wasn’t the problem. I needed to change my ways.
The journey continues
From those early days to the heart-breaking time when we said good-bye, Grace had an enormous influence on me, personally and professionally. Our journey together was one of mutual love and support. Grace was a keen teacher for me, providing amazing opportunities for me to see myself more clearly. In my quest to better understand Grace, her background, and her phobias — all things that were foreign to me — she taught me important leadership lessons.
Those same lessons apply in our workplaces. Solving problems takes both parties, though managers often lay the responsible solely on the employee (just as I started to do with Grace).
I kept thinking of these parallels and how important this idea of shared responsibility was to me, and in 2011, a marketing consultant and friend encouraged me to write about these ideas and the Graceful Leadership blog was born. I hope you find the stories of Grace as helpful in your world as I have found Grace in mine.