Leadership and Dogs that Run

Have you ever noticed dogs that run? Run with a person, that is. Dogs that aren’t zig-zagging in front of their person. Dogs that aren’t yanking their leashes; to explore some wondrously exciting thing while painfully lengthening that person’s arm.

Start watching. You’ll see what I mean. These dogs are focused. They are steady and reliable. They have a job and they know what it is.

Okay, so there might be exceptions.  Take my dog for example, and the bouncing pull he does when he smells deer or sees foxes when we’re running. Or most embarrassingly, the ungodly squealing sounds he makes when he smells the carriage horses that go by when we’re in a city that has them.  But mostly now, I count on him to do his part while I do mine. Together we get something productive done.

It wasn’t always like this. When Sam first came from a rescue organization at the height of winter, I had a romantic image of what a woman running with her beautiful white Samoyed would look like.  And it was totally not how Sam and I looked when we ran together. His breed and lack of training meant he towed me like a sled, albeit with spectacular exuberance. Unlike a sled, however, I was terrified. The roads and trails were icy. That ice could mean a good fall for me and worse, a dog with a high prey drive–read: any animal that moves–loose in the city or woods.

We had to (learn to) walk before we (learned to) run. We– well at least he–did a lot of “sits” and “stays” to train his mind. Kind of like mindfulness meditation for dogs. We progressed to “sits” and “stays” while squirrels foraged nearby. His paw-jerk reactions to chase calmed. Slowly but surely he got steadier when we ran. He became reliable and I now can count on him to hold his course. Yes, foxes and rabbits still cause him to bounce excitedly like Winnie the Pooh’s Tigger but that passes pretty quickly.

Now what do running dogs have to do with you and leadership? Let’s consider for a moment what you are like in the workplace. Are you steady and reliable to internal or external customers, in your leadership direction or your leadership style?

Are you zig-zagging from one new shiny wondrous thing to the next, leaving everyone around uncertain how to get something done together with you? If that’s your leadership direction it needs steadying, the equivalent of “sit” “stay” training is creating a vision and mission with clear objectives. It’s guiding those you lead to establish sound strategies and removing barriers to help them effectively execute. What it’s not is changing things up each time the wind blows!

If it’s your leadership style that need steadying—you’re hands off and inspirational one week, hands on and growling the next, you’ve some harder work to do to even that out. Yes, that’s when I’d recommend an executive coach or getting a “tell it like it is” mentor—someone who won’t sugarcoat your behavior and the consequences of it. Someone who can help you “train your mind.”

People with zig-zagging, arm yanking dogs, have several choices. They can put up with them, stop running or engage in training. But here’s the thing—they don’t have to run with those loveable and loving creatures. But at work? They may have to work with you. They in fact, need you. Including your exuberance! But they also need you to find your “steady and reliable” even if that will never be your default mode. They need it and you need it. So that all of you can get something productive and meaningful done together.

Here’s to steadier and steady running with others!


U.S. Library of Congress ISSN 2164-7240

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