One of the many things I enjoy about the holiday season is having the luxury of time to take much longer and more leisurely walks with our little dog — Elsie. One of the commonalities between my country of birth, England and my country of now residence and soon citizenship, is we are both nations of dog lovers.
Elsie is a mutt — she’s a mix between a dachshund and a terrier. She’s such a cutie who is so much fun and a great little character. My wife has even trained Elsie to ring a bell that hangs at the back patio door when she needs to “do her business.”
Just the other evening I was walking Elsie around our neighborhood and, as I commonly do, she wasn’t on her leash. Please don’t report me to the Homeowners Association or worse still, to the City Council, but I have found when walking our block Elsie will stick with me. If I walk, she walks. If I stop, she stops. If I stop to say hello and chat with a fellow dog-walker, Elsie will do the same. I lead and she follows.
My wife and I have often observed that aggressive and unfriendly dogs seem to have aggressive and unfriendly owners. Conversely, well-mannered dogs seem to have friendly owners. We’ve also noticed that owners who talk negatively of their dogs seem to have negative and nasty dogs. If we don’t know a dog in the neighborhood we will often give them a heads up, as Elsie bounds toward them: “She’s super friendly.” Sadly it’s not uncommon to see some people pick up their dog or yang their dog away telling us theirs is “not good with other dogs” or “s/he doesn’t like
dogs s/he doesn’t know” or the worse we’ve heard which was: “s/he hates all other dogs.”
Our neighbors are always astounded when we tell them Elsie has never been to any form of obedience training — we just walk her often; feed her well but not too much or too little; we love on her a lot and ensure she gets a good night’s sleep (as she sleeps in her own crate downstairs).
This all got me thinking about the workplace and the vitally important role leaders have. I wonder whether workplaces would be much better “neighborhoods” if all leaders were worth following. Elsie is obedient to us because she trusts us. We very rarely hear the word “obedience” in today’s workplace as it sounds so dictatorial, dominant and doesn’t appeal to our self-directed compass. However, I am sure we can agree we’re more likely to do what we need to do if we’re working with a leader we trust. We will follow their lead. We’re more open to their directions.
Early on in my career, I worked for a leader called Mr. Bould — he was a retired captain of the British Army and was our managing director. His name suited him well – he was bold and forthright. He knew what he needed from me. He rarely asked my opinion but when he did, he listened well and spoke very few words.
Mr. Bould gave clear and decisive instructions as if he was leading us into battle. He was a gentleman. I always knew where I stood with him. He was consistent and insistent that we enjoyed family time together and he never disturbed me on my weekends or evenings. When my wife gave birth to our first child, Brodie, he was the only colleague who sent a beautiful basket of flowers and some household goodies for my wife.
I was obedient to his lead. He got the best out of me. Interestingly, as I reflect back, I treated my direct reports, colleagues and vendors just as Mr. Bould treated me — respectfully, positively, clearly, decisively and always honorably, even when tough decisions were to be made.
There’s a reason we call dogs “man’s best friend.” We can learn so many things from a dog’s behavior, personality, demeanor, resiliency and, most importantly, the willingness to provide their family members with unconditional love, loyalty and companionship down to their very last breath.
Organizations all over the world talk about “employee engagement” and will spend a countless amount of human resource hours worrying and strategizing on how to “win talent” or “retain talent” or to “minimize attrition” (which is when more employees are leaving than new ones are starting and hence positions remain unfilled and teams are understaffed).
If only we looked more towards the simple life lessons around us — for example, what I’ve learned from Elsie and Mr. Bould — I’m confident we would have more employee engagement and friendly neighborhoods.
Paul Butler is a Santa Clarita resident and a client partner with Newleaf Training and Development of Valencia (newleaf-ca.com). The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Signal newspaper. For questions or comments, email Butler at email@example.com.