Compassionate Leadership: Beyond the Obvious

Have you, as a leader, ever overlooked some key element because you were so focused on the problem at hand? Sometimes, talking about compassionate leadership means really listening to an underperforming employee, getting to the root of a “bad” hire, or trying something new with a team that’s totally out of sync.

Compassionate Leadership with Dog

An unconventional approach can lead to big returns

It can be tempting to accept the status-quo, try the same approaches you’ve used before, or even avoid addressing a problem altogether. But exploring an unconventional approach can lead to big returns.

Such was the case for me when I brought my rescue dog, Grace, to see a chiropractor. Many would consider it a stretch in caring for a pet. But in hindsight, it was one of the most important things I ever did for Grace and for our relationship.

First of all, you might be thinking: “A chiropractor for a dog?!” When someone first suggested the idea, I had some vague awareness there was such a thing. But it certainly was not a service I had considered feasible in all my years of having dogs. However, I had become dissatisfied with all the traditional explanations for Grace’s seizures, fearfulness, and general anxiety. I decided it was time to try something totally new.

In my early years with Grace, my focus was solely on how to improve the mental anxiety she faced. I never, not in a million years, thought she had anything physical going on. However, I turned out to be way off base and it took a chiropractor to convince me.

The very first thing that shouted out to the chiropractor when she examined Grace was a cowlick. Apparently, it’s a major RED FLAG that indicates issues with the nervous system. Who knew? It turns out, that out-of-place patch of fur was an accurate signal of a problem. In fact, it revealed that Grace had long been experiencing a host of uncomfortable physical problems, including cranial compression and spinal issues.

Missing red flags can happen; stepping outside your comfort zone can fix them

Finding this out was mind-blowing. How I had I missed all the tiny red flags? The cowlick? It made me feel so much empathy for Grace who had been managing emotional AND physical stress. It immediately called to mind that quote: “Be kind. For everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about it.”

This is true at work each day, as well. In my opinion, it’s unrealistic to expect that we can leave everything at the door. Family or financial struggles, health issues (physical or mental), and these days, general anxiety about the state of the world impact all of us. Just like how Grace wasn’t able to separate physical pain from her actions, especially when stressed!

The work the chiropractor did that day, in literally minutes, made a real difference in how Grace moved through her world. My husband and I could identify several tangible positive changes (both physical and mental).

Sometimes compassionate leadership means putting away preconceived notions or stepping outside our own comfort zone to find what works for your team.

Is there a cowlick staring at you?


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  1. Tammy Lenski on October 4, 2011 at 11:29 am

    Robin, this is an amazing story. I’m sorry I didn’t see it before seeing you earlier today! You know, the more I work on building a partnership with my two dogs, the clearer I get about how complex these beings are. I’ve had dogs my whole life, but doing agility has helped me realize how much I don’t know! Grace is lucky to have such an intuitive and loving person as you in her life…your instinct drew you to seek out this chiropractor; many would have missed the signals that you noticed.

    • PeopleSense Consulting LLC on October 5, 2011 at 7:50 am

      Thanks, Tammy! Grace is always trying to teach me something — I just need to remember to listen. I agree, agility is a fabulous way to build that partnership. It can start simple, but I can see where opportunities always exist in agiliy to find that next nuance that will raise the relationship to a higher level. I really appreciate your comments, thanks so much.

  2. Rufus' Food and Spirits Guide on October 4, 2011 at 12:20 pm

    We use a lead, but if we didn’t I know our youngest one would have a cowlick. Katherine took him to the vet the other day and he whined the entire 45 minutes. He wasn’t aggressive, he’s nice to the workers. But there were two escape attempts.

    • PeopleSense Consulting LLC on October 5, 2011 at 7:52 am

      Does your dog whine a lot? It’s Grace’s favorite way to get our attention (also can be so annoying when it lasts — like the 45 minutes you describe!). Sometimes I have the hardest time figuring out if it’s because she is nervous or excited, like when we’re in the car headed for a walk in the woods. She’s uncontrollable!

  3. Kas on October 4, 2011 at 9:14 pm

    Wow!! This is eyeopening and has me looking at each of the dogs and trying to evaluate them as we speak. Anxiety and reactivity in dogs is rooted in the brain, as you mentioned, and just like you, we’ve been working on changing the emotional responses to things that scare particular dogs. Ignore the people that think that you are being excessive … more dogs need owners like you – instead of ignoring the issues or pretending that they aren’t there, you are working towards resolving them. This is something that I’m working on with Dies in particular on a daily basis. And just like you, I feel better every single time that Dies does. Grace is so lucky to have found such a wonderful owner and you two are a wonderful inspiration 🙂

    • PeopleSense Consulting LLC on October 5, 2011 at 7:54 am

      Thank you, Kas. Means a lot to hear this from you — mom of four pups! Good luck with Diesel; he’s very lucky to have you, too.

  4. Greyhounds CAN Sit on October 5, 2011 at 6:22 am

    This is all extremely interesting. Who would have thought a cowlick could have offered so much information to Donna! It’s great that Grace was happy to have Donna manipulate her. And that Donna was able to find areas with problems. I hope Grace stops having seizures. Does Grace have to have more treatments? Yes, I totally agree that Grace is very fortunate to have you for an owner. So many people either wouldn’t think of looking deeper into why their dog has problems or couldn’t be bothered doing anything about them.

    • PeopleSense Consulting LLC on October 5, 2011 at 8:18 am

      I thought it was very interesting that Grace was so accepting and trusting. I’m sure it was Donna’s proper approach to her that helped, but Grace did not resist or seem frightened at all. At one point while Donna and I were sitting down on the sidewalk, Grace got up on her back legs and moved in to sniff and lick Donna’s neck. It was so funny. It proves that the way you approach a dog — or a person — can come back to you in positive ways. Grace will probably have two more treatments to get her back on track, then Donna will help me figure out a long-term plan. Thanks for asking and for stopping by!

  5. spiderpaw on October 6, 2011 at 11:54 pm

    Wow, very insightful post Robin. I’m checking for a cowlick on Corran tomorrow.

  6. didiwright on October 12, 2011 at 5:09 am

    I kept checking George for a cowlick after I read this post. It’s very interesting and educational…I’m not happy that Grace’s got issues and needs help, but I am glad that you seem to have found the perfect person to help solve them. Fingers crossed!

  7. Laura Williams on January 5, 2015 at 7:24 pm

    I rescued my 5th irish setter last June and he has a definate cowlick from the top of his ears running down to the back of his neck. It’s a part right down the middle ending in a cowlick at the top of his head. While he has no issues at this point, I am wondering what can I do to this two year old to avoid possible problems in the future.

    • Robin on January 5, 2015 at 8:44 pm

      Hi Laura. Congratulations on your 5th setter! They are beautiful dogs. I’m not an expert in dog’s health, in fact, there are vets and trainers who might not see a problem with a cowlick. Since there are no other issues, you could be all set. Just as in managing people in the workforce, my advice is to look for any patterns of a problem and then work to understand the the root cause in order to remedy it. Your observations and awareness are great, especially since you said there are no other problems. That’s a great sign of a good leader, too! Good luck to you and thanks for stopping by!

  8. christina cuanalo on March 26, 2015 at 3:11 am

    Hi, I’m currently online looking up info on this very subject of cowlicks. I bought a 9 week old Boxer puppy and she has a weird cowlick on the back of her neck. I asked the breeder about it and she assured me this was normal. She charged me $1100 for this puppy. I had her for 2 weeks and she had a seizure. I took her to the vet and did testing and now have found out she has a malformation of the occipital bones. These are the first and second vertebrae at the base of the skull. She is now waiting to be seen by a specialist next week. Surgery is needed. I’m so upset with this breeder for misleading me. I have set up a gofundme account to help me with her care. These cowlicks do mean something. They should not be ignored!!

  9. Julie McKee on December 30, 2015 at 12:56 am

    Such an interesting story! Cowlicks on a canine were nothing I thought of before I got my 1st pure bred golden retriever. She has had a very defined cowlick from between her eyes to the tip of her nose since the day she was born. It’s kind of what made me fall for her (that – and she was the only puppy playing in the mud puddle). I bought her at 6 weeks & she turns 10 in May 2016. She has been a blessing with a sweet & passive temperament toward our 5 year old male golden & my (almost) 3 year old daughter. She has had zero health issues & great check ups – minus a little extra weight 😉 Perfect blood work & just had a doggy dentist cleaning last month. Only negative thing is knowing I’ll never find another one like her. This type of story always makes you more aware & it never hurts to view things from a different perspective. Thank you for sharing 🙂 Always appreciate new insight!

    • Robin on January 1, 2016 at 11:33 am

      Hi Julie. How good to know of this wonderful experience with your golden. I’m glad you offered it for a balanced perspective! Continued health and joy to all of you.

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