Lead Like a Dog
What can leaders learn from dogs?
In a quick, humorous read, co-authors Krissi & Dan Barr, in The Fido Factor: How to Get a Leg Up at Work, share how dogs can motivate each of us to become a more effective leader. Dogs can teach leaders the importance of being faithful, inspirational, determined and observant. I won’t mention how this book will help you unleash your potential, have you barking up the right tree, or help you get a leg up at work.
4 Traits Leaders Should Emulate
“It’s time to lead like a dog.” That’s the last sentence on one of your first pages, and it would surprise most readers. Tell us what you mean.
It likely won’t come as a big surprise to the 44 percent of American families that have dogs! Clearly we’ve taken some literary license in drawing the leadership parallels between dogs and business leaders, but the truth is there are many important lessons we can learn from our four-legged friends.
We boiled it all down to four traits dogs exhibit: they’re faithful, inspirational, determined and observant. Anyone who improves in those areas will become a better leader. And we’ve filled the book with hundreds of practical ways to do just that.
The Hallmarks of a Faithful Leader
Faithful is the first trait in FIDO Factor. What are the hallmarks of a faithful leader?
At the core of it, faithful leaders earn the trust of their team and their customers by doing the right things and living up to their word.
Form a bond with a dog, and you’ll have a faithful friend, someone you can depend on and who will defend you no matter what. When you are regarded as faithful, it means you’ve earned trust. You can be relied upon.
Trust comes from being loyal to your teammates and customers and doing what you say you’re going to do when you say you’ll do it. It’s awfully hard to be an impactful leader if others don’t think you’re committed to the cause.
The issue of being faithful at work goes to the heart of team building. To get both results and loyal team members requires a personal connection based on your team’s belief in you and what you stand for. You need to build trust to be influential, and you need to be faithful to build trust.
Faithful leaders work in a way consistent with both their company and personal values. They don’t spend sleepless nights worrying about what they said, how they acted or whether or not they did the right thing. That’s because they make values-based choices that put the good of the team ahead of the personal interests of the leader—just like your dog does.
Inspirational is number two. You say, “Inspiration moves people to do the extraordinary.” What is it about inspirational leadership that draws us in so fast?
Inspiration is that secret sauce that makes everything work better. As children we may have experienced it in sports when a coach knew just what to say to help us do our best at a critical moment in a game. Deep down inside we’re all suckers for a wagging tail or an infectious positive attitude or a vision of greatness for the future. That same intangible quality can be developed and is essential to leadership success.
Dogs are naturally inspirational. They make us feel good, lift our spirits and energize us to our very core. Selfless, motivational and with a tail that always speaks the truth, dogs make us believe anything is possible. To maximize your leadership role, you have to inspire greatness in others by getting them to believe they can do what they thought was impossible.
As a leader you need to have and articulate a compelling vision that matters to your team and your customers. Inspirational leaders can see where they want to be in the future. They are enthusiastic and optimistic about realizing the vision and find a way to ignite the same passion in others. Inspirational leaders change the question from “What’s in it for me?” to “What’s in it for us!”
Inspiration is unique to each person. What pumps you up may not work for someone else. That’s why it’s such a challenge to inspire people to follow you. And yet inspirational leaders find a way to develop engaged and happy co-workers who know their individual contributions matter.
Be Doggedly Determined
Determination or “doggedly determined” is another attribute of a leader. In this section, you say to “mark your territory” and it’s not (fortunately!) what we may think. Why and how should a leader mark their territory?
A dog marking his territory is one thing. But what about humans at work? Can it be done in a way that doesn’t end up with you cleaning out your desk and being ushered out of the building by the head of HR? As it turns out there are many ways to mark your territory at work without getting arrested for indecency or vandalism.
Taking ownership and being accountable can be difficult to do. We all know people who say they’re going to do something by a certain date and yet it’s always late. And there are those who don’t return phone calls or respond quickly to email. If you’re guilty of these behaviors, stop doing them because you’re creating chaos in the team and losing trust.
When you truly own something, you need to follow up and follow through to be absolutely sure the job gets done. We live in a world of teams, where many people contribute to a project. That’s all well and good, but if you really own the outcome, you are the one ultimately responsible for making sure everyone does his or her part.
If something goes wrong, learn from it, apologize and fix it. Even if the root cause stems from someone else’s actions. It’s what leaders do, and your teammates will respect you for it.
There are many ways to mark your territory. Remember you’re trying to get a leg up at work, not lift your leg at work.
Be an Observant Leader
What distinguishes an Observant leader?
Observant leaders are committed to taking in as much information as possible in order to make the best decisions. As dog lovers know, dogs are highly observant, constantly searching for more information. They use all their senses, watching and sniffing and listening for meaning. Then they make their decisions.
In a world where information is plentiful and fast changing, only those leaders who are dedicated to soaking it all in and assimilating it into a cohesive strategy will prevail.
Observant leaders sense things others miss. They feel momentum shifts and read body language. They look for and identify patterns because they are willing to see things from a different perspective. They listen intently and act when something doesn’t smell right. They knit together disparate pieces of information to help them draw informed conclusions.
Observant leaders are curious about what they are seeing, hearing, and feeling as well as what they are not sensing. That curiosity drives them to ask questions in search of deeper meaning.
Observant leaders are self-aware. They know how their emotions and actions affect other people. They know their strengths and weaknesses.
Observant leaders spot problems before they become serious issues and identify opportunities before the competition does. They are known as people who pay attention and are fully present in the moment. They notice the little things.
Talk a little about the Iditarod. What can leaders learn from this event, the most famous dog sled race?
To start with, the Iditarod is an 1,100-mile journey across the wilderness of Alaska. It’s an epic test of strength, endurance and determination.
Of critical importance, each team consists of a musher (the human) and 16 dogs whose job it is to pull the sled from Anchorage to Nome. Since most people haven’t made that trek, it’s like going from Boston to Atlanta, in the snow.
Not all dogs are well suited for these conditions. It’s hard to imagine a team of Toy Poodles and Chihuahuas getting out of the parking lot in Anchorage. Fortunately, Siberian Huskies are very well suited to this line of work.
Just like the Iditarod, business is a team sport. Someone creates, another sells, and yet another delivers. And when everyone is working together and communicating effectively — two vital functions of senior management — remarkable things can happen.
The key to winning at the Iditarod and in business is teamwork. So why are some teams more successful than others? It starts at the top. Good leaders assemble the right teams for the job. And then they manage them by setting realistic goals, coaching each person and supporting the team with resources. After all, if you want to win the Iditarod, you’d better have a good sled and some terrific, well-trained dogs.
Teams by their very nature bring more resources, ideas and energy to a challenge. They can accomplish far more than an individual going it alone. Teams, when structured and managed properly, can synthesize the best ideas into a breakthrough new product or service.
Once everyone is on board, your job as the leader is to motivate, encourage, arbitrate, discipline and generally keep things on course. If you abdicate your role as musher, teamwork will almost always degenerate into chaos. That’s usually when you realize you’re in Juneau, not Nome.
What other advice can you share to give readers a leg up?
As you reflect on the leadership impact you want to have, some things are a given. You want your team to say you brought out their best, achieved results, motivated them and picked up on important details. The real question is this: are you the leader your dog would be proud of?
You don’t get to decide whether you’re a leader or not. That’s the job of the pack. They listen to how you speak, watch how you behave and measure your results.
The good news is you control your attitudes and actions, and they ultimately determine your leadership brand. You decide what you say and what you do. When you continue to do everything within your power to improve yourself, you — like every dog — will have your day. And maybe your own corner office.
For more information, see The Fido Factor: How to Get a Leg Up at Work.