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5 Lessons from Lu: Leadership

Posted on October 10, 2020 in Design Your Life

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Growing up on a farm meant that animals were not pets. I had very little understanding of the bond between animals and humans until Lu came into my life. While I have many amazing mentors and leaders to learn with and from, I’d be remiss to not share the powerful (I might even say transformational) leadership lessons I have learned from my dog.

  1. Walk beside me

After a number of terrible dog-walking experiences with Lu, we had some training sessions and learned that your dog should walk beside you because if they walk behind you the leash can trip you both up and the owner can’t see what the dog is doing. The dog also shouldn’t walk in front and lead the pack because they are not in charge and should not pull their owner along. Walking beside Lu was a reminder of the concept of working together as one in leadership. Although we may have different positions and responsibilities, when we walk alongside one another it gives us a far better vantage point to learn from each other and to have empathy for one another.

2. Loyalty is actionable 

Lu (like most dogs) is fiercely loyal. Without making a verbal promise, following a policy, or telling me she is committed, Lu is loyal. If I’m having a bad day, she cuddles up beside me, even if I leave the house for five minutes, she greets me like I was gone for weeks. She knows when I’m on an important call not to bark and senses when it is time to get me up and moving for a break. I don’t have to ask Lu for any of this – but I am aware that her response is partly because I have provided consistency, love, and praise.

Loyalty in leadership is a reciprocal process – not a set of demands. Lu isn’t loyal to me because of my title and she has never received fear-inducing discipline, we have an unwritten pact that we have one another’s backs. She doesn’t judge me and I don’t judge her – we are mutually respectful and responsive.

3. Love doesn’t discriminate 

As obvious as this sounds – Lu is a dog and I am a human. We are very different from one another, yet the most natural thing for both of us has been to form a bond – a connection. In leadership, these relationships and connections offer a massive competitive advantage.

In his book, Love Leads: The Spiritual Connection Between Your Relationships and Productivity, Dr. Greene, Dr. Greene explores ways in which leaders can demonstrate love, some of which include: explaining ‘why’ in some decision-making, being transparent, providing boundaries, and by asking questions about things like how their children are, if they watched the playoff game the night before, or how their weekend went.

My love with Lu isn’t conditional on performance, it isn’t dependent on us having the same point of view, it doesn’t waiver if I make a mistake, nor do either one of us (I don’t think) worry about being vulnerable in this way around one another. It really goes back to the whole idea of walking beside one another.

4. Play to get results

On days where I have back to back meetings or commit to writing, Lu will remind me when it is time to get up and move and take a break. Sometimes she will grab a ball and drop it right on my lap, other times she will lay her head right on the computer.

From a physiological perspective, having a time-out to move the body is of huge importance to the brain. Taking a break and doing something as benign as throwing a ball can reset thinking and a breath of fresh air can inspire.

I understand that there are deadlines to meet, results to attain, and quotas that must be met. However, an often overlooked way to increase employee productivity, creativity, urgency, imagination, innovation, and overall well-being is to simply do something completely unrelated to work. Some companies have play equipment like skipping ropes and hula hoops, others have board games and puzzles, ping pong tables, craft areas (the possibilities are endless) and they dedicate a ‘recess time’ to encourage play and laughter. As a leader, it is key that you take part (walk beside) in this time too. The ‘time out’ for play will quickly show the return on investment.

5. Don’t be afraid to stick your neck out

Lu isn’t really a big fan of car rides, but she comes along anyway and enjoys life as a passenger. Her favourite thing to do in the car is to stick her head out the window and have the wind blow on her face. I could roll up the window and make her sit for a more predictable and more quiet ride, but where is the fun in that? Taking risks is a huge part of leadership. It doesn’t mean rolling the window down fully and putting Lu in an unsafe situation. Providing opportunities to take risks (and creating them for yourself) means facilitating the freedom to be creative, the freedom to make mistakes, and not reprimanding when the only result is drooled all over the window.

I didn’t want a cat – that is why I got a dog. If I wanted a pet that lays eggs or swims in a bowl, I shouldn’t have chosen a dog. Don’t hire intelligent people and expect them to be productive and engaged if they are not allowed to try out new things and feel like they have some freedom.

There are probably 25 other lessons I could’ve added to the list, but I want to hear lessons from you.

What has your pet taught you about leadership?


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