Canine Leadership Quiz
I don’t have children, no employees — plants, I have plants. My plants love me and they create oxygen for me to breathe. They are pretty and I love them back.
I also pick species that are low maintenance — pothos ivy is my specialty. Anyone can grow this plant. Anyone. I am a master grower of pothos ivy. Pothos ivy is really the only living thing I want to be responsible for.
But I like dogs. They get so excited when you come home. They like to hang out with you. They bark at would-be evildoers. They can do tricks. Pothos ivy does no tricks, although I did get one to grow up a stick once.
So my boyfriend and I got a puppy, a female German shepherd we named Kenda (after Joe Kenda, Homicide Hunter on the ID channel). I really wanted to call her Little Debbie, but that was vetoed.
Unfortunately, puppies are not like pothos ivy. They pee, they poop, they chew. And Kenda wants to be the leader of our pack. There is no hierarchy with the pothoses. I have the water; therefore, I am the leader. There is no office gossip, no drama, and no complaining about the lousy benefits package.
The introduction of a puppy to FireStar International has reinforced why I do not have an army of employees. In fact, it has reinforced why I have no employees at all (except for the pothoses). So before you accept a leadership position (or a puppy), I think you should consider the following:
How do you feel about cleaning up someone else’s mistakes? Puppies make mistakes. No puppy understands suddenly that it’s supposed to do its business outside. It’s a process. And they can’t clean up their own mistakes. When you don’t have employees, the only mistakes you have to clean up are your own.
Are you willing to take the time to train your employees (and yourself)? My pothoses take about 30 seconds of my time once a week. Sometimes if they get too exuberant, I have to cut them back and keep them in their cubicles — uh, I mean, their pots.
Kenda is going to puppy class, so she’ll stop barking wildly at other dogs, people, grasshoppers, and the wind. The truth is, Kenda isn’t going to puppy class — I’m going to puppy class, because I am a crappy leader. Do you share any of my top mistakes?
Inconsistency – Sometimes I make her sit and wait before I open the door. Sometimes I forget or it takes too much time (yeah, five extra seconds), and she bolts right out.
So what do I want? Does she have to wait or not? Do your employees have to be on time or not? Obey the dress code or not? How consistent are you?
How about you, Mom? Do the homework or not? Too tired tonight? Join the club, people! Consistency is hard! But it’s what we have to do to be effective leaders.
Unrealistic expectations – Jeez, we worked out for almost 15 minutes once on Thursday. Do we have to do it again? Good grief, if that were all it took, Kenda could be riding a bicycle if I put a couple of hours in!
Behavior has to be taught and reinforced consistently over a long period of time before it becomes ingrained. This takes patience and discipline on the part of the leader … the leader, not the follower!
The follower’s job is to pay attention, try to understand our babbling, and get treats. We need to adjust our expectations and give our followers the time and attention they need to succeed.
Poorly executed rewards – Kenda loves treats. She will do anything for them. But sometimes I forget to bring them. Or I give her one for looking cute. Or I drop one and she snags it. It’s a reward free-for-all. She doesn’t know what the heck she gets rewards for.
Are your rewards executed well? Are they immediate? Frequent? Personalized? And clearly linked to the behavior you desire?
I make many more mistakes, but you get the idea. Puppy class isn’t for Kenda. It’s for me. I have to learn these skills so she can succeed. How much leadership training have you had?
Can you learn another language? New employees don’t always speak your language. Maybe they haven’t had a job in your industry before. Maybe they don’t quite get all your weird jargon and acronyms.
Do you ever feel your employees are looking at you like that? Well, I don’t like it! The pothoses never look at me like that. They understand and obey all my requests.
Your employees may be from a different generation or a different country. You just might not be the best at face-to-face communication. Or you may have a remote team, and that poses a unique challenge. If you can’t communicate in a way your people understand, you can’t lead them.
Do you want to be responsible for someone else’s growth and development? I try to get the right food, take Kenda to the vet, and make sure she’s around other dogs and different people so she won’t be a nut and go crazy when she sees someone wearing a hat. And she’s just a dog.
When you have an employee, not only do you have to make sure they aren’t afraid of hats, you have to help them do their current job well, and you have to look out for them. You have to make sure that if they’re sick, they know they can take time off and you’re not going to fire them. You have to help them both understand and set boundaries.
You have to protect them. You have to celebrate their victories and coach them through their mistakes. Leadership comes with a lot of responsibility.
Do you want to deal with conflict? I know many people in leadership positions who hate conflict. Unfortunately, leadership has a lot to do with handling conflict.
Leaders have to tell people when they are doing things wrong or how they can do things better. Leaders have to tell people “no” sometimes. They have to wade into the muck of workplace drama, confront the players, and get their teams back on track.
If you don’t like this, that’s OK! Not everyone in the pack is the leader. There have to be some followers. Kenda is a sassy pants. She would totally lead this pack if we’d let her. She’d walk us down the street, she’d jump, and she’d drive my car. She had to learn her place in the pack. We all do. The best leaders are comfortable teaching this and helping you learn to lead your own pack, if that’s what you want.
I love my Kenda dog, but I gotta tell ya, at the end of the day, I’m pothos all the way.
Denise Ryan is a motivational pyromaniac — her infectious energy and enthusiasm will set a room ablaze. She holds the title of Certified Speaking Professional (CSP) and she is an author, keynote speaker, and, most notably, a fire-starter extraordinaire. www.firestarspeaking.com