Previously, I shared that providing excellent leadership for my adopted dog, as well as people, takes time, discipline, and unconditional love. It takes strength and courage to love and lead well. It’s not simply about being nice but rather about letting go of your own agenda and serving another. Love is not a word you hear in the workplace, and I suggested we reflect on how to truly and boldly love others.
As I continue to learn to be a good leader to Louie, one of the toughest principles for me to grasp [WARNING: friends, swallow your food before continuing] was how to be the Alpha Dog. That’s right, my trainer let me know that I was a weak Alpha. And my lack of strong leadership caused confusion for Louie, forcing him into the position of having to step up and lead.
Before Louie and I found each other, I never gave much thought to asserting my role as Alpha Dog. Consequently, my dogs assumed that role and I let them. It didn’t seem to matter because they were small and harmless. And by the time I got home after a long day at work, I was tired of being Alpha, so I let them boss me around. But that approach doesn’t work for Louie and it definitely does not work for people
There is so much that goes into being a good Alpha; being consistent, providing safety, setting appropriate boundaries, giving genuine and abundant praise, and offering necessary correction. Again, all of those things must be rooted in trust and undergirded by love.
When the trainer first met us, Louie behaved very badly and I was at my wits end. The trainer described my body language as defeated. Louie responded to this with fear and confusion. The words that moved me off the dime were, “I’ve seen you do leadership seminars, now you’ve got to do what you do in those seminars. Exude confidence. He needs reassurance that you know what you’re doing.”
Really? For my dog? I had made the common mistake of assuming that he would instinctively know that I’m the boss – simply because I’m the human, I’m larger than he, and I think more “knowledgeable.” The trainer taught me that it is about my level of confidence in where I’m going and what needs to be accomplished. That confidence is in knowing what’s best for Louie, giving him firm direction, and drawing out his very best behavior.
As leaders, our assumptions about others and about situations around us unintentionally cause confusion among our team. We have expectations that are not always clearly communicated, and then when not met, causes disappointment on our part and confusion on the part of others. Ken Blanchard often refers to this as seagull management – meaning a manager who only interacts with employees when a problem arises. This style of leadership involves hasty decisions about things of which they have little understanding, resulting in messy situations for others to clean up.
Being a strong leader is about so much more than claiming an impressive title, wearing expensive suits and appearing important. It is about:
- Owning the leadership role we’ve been given;
- Resisting the urge to react out of our own fears and insecurities;
- Addressing problems before we lose our cool;
- And effectively communicating the vision and seeking to understand our team.
Dogs and people need a humble leader not a bossy dictator. I’ve committed to leading with intentionality, clear vision and goals. I encourage you to do the same – whether you’re leading canines or humans.
I am happy to say I have assumed my role as Alpha of the house and consequently, Louie is a much happier pup. I had to wrestle him to ground once or twice to make him understand submission, a method I do NOT recommend for your team. But it is clear that he understands and appreciates my love and leadership. And I provide a safe haven for him by my consistent behavior. We’ll talk about safety and consistency next time.