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My Dogs Helped Me See Leadership in a Different Way

Some people call me crazy, but I feel fortunate to own three golden retrievers. Mind you, I have to live with the fact that it looks like a pet store blew up in my house, the concept of “no dogs on the furniture” is simply a nice thought and the hair…I can’t even begin to tell you about the hair. Suffice it to say, a lint roller is a wardrobe staple for me.

I’m not sure if it was the holiday nostalgia that had me reflecting on my goldens and how quickly the time has passed since bringing them home as puppies, but something made me take a trip down memory lane. At four, nine and eleven, we have all settled into a state of understanding and are living our best lives.  However, it wasn’t always that way.  Puppies require effort.  Puppies require patience.  Puppies require an investment. No two puppies are the same.

As I thought about the journey from puppy to adult with my golden girls, I realized that many of the skills I have seen effective dog owners use can also apply to leadership.

Stay with me on this one…let me share my pup-rearing experiences and you can decide if there is a correlation to people leadership.

Clarity and Consistency

We’ve all watched cute videos of dogs rolling over, playing dead, or dancing on their hind legs.  Naturally, I thought it would be fun to teach my dog a few of these tricks. What I didn’t realize is how important consistency and clarity would be in helping my dog be successful.

Dogs learn to associate actions with words. In teaching my dog to “shake”, I learned that if I was consistent in putting my hand out at the exact moment I said “shake”, my dog would raise her paw to my hand.  This came after many repeated attempts until the connection was made.  It was then that it became second nature. If you are looking for successful outcomes, you must be clear and consistent in what you ask for.

Reward & Praise

If you catch them doing something wrong, it had better be in the moment or they will probably not understand or relate to the corrective feedback. Catch them doing something right and reward or praise them…that’s the ticket. Reinforce the correct behavior and they will be far more successful.

By the way, I have also learned that it is possible to teach an old dog new tricks.  Clarity. Consistency. Reward.  It works!

Recognize & Embrace Differences

My dogs have different personalities. Different things motivate and interest them and they have unique, individual strengths. For my goldens, one likes to fetch and is usually found with a ball in her mouth. One would be happy to have someone pet her all day long and the third one lies with her tummy in the air ninety percent of the time. Learning to understand and embrace their differences has made life easier and more rewarding for everyone.

Patience & Encouragement

Dogs need to be taught just about everything which takes time and energy. Anyone who has potty trained a puppy knows what I’m talking about. With my first golden, it took her 6 days to be fully housebroken (which might be a world record). Imagine my surprise when we were still having accidents with puppy number two after nine months.

Mistakes happen and everyone learns at a different pace. The way you choose to react makes all the difference for the dog. There is always a place and time for discipline, but encouragement and praise produce far better outcomes.

Have Some Fun

It can be exhausting to establish expectations and achieve the desired outcomes. That’s why it is important to make time to do something fun. It doesn’t have to be complicated. My dogs are delighted by a simple walk or swim in the lake. Carving out some time where fun is the main objective can foster a trusting relationship.

To sum it up, I have learned that if you are patient, catch them doing something right, praise, reward, be clear and have a little fun you will have a rewarding experience as a dog owner.

Does any of this sound familiar to the people leaders out there? Which leadership skill have you found to be the most effective?

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