There’s an unexpected resource I’ve leaned on throughout these complex times. While audiobooks have provided perpetual learning, family and downtime have allowed me to rest and recharge, it’s been my dog, Kona, who has been a constant source of comfort and care. I’ve made her part of my morning routine, which instead of going to the gym at 5 a.m. now consists of going to a Tesla charging station—I get a charge, no pun intended, by plugging in my Model X for free—then walking with Kona through the neighborhood to Starbucks, so I can be there when it opens at 6 a.m. Also, as I walk Kona and meditate, I’m texting my nine gratitude partners and completing my early-morning phone calls.
It’s a fulfilling way to spend the morning and Kona is a big reason why. In addition to helping maintain a routine, dogs are also naturally protective. I remember my previous dog, Maguire—a really well-trained lab—basically lived in an igloo in the driveway, but when my wife and I left the house and my kids were at home, Maguire would go to the front porch and guard the house for the kids. Once we returned, he’d go back to his igloo, content the children were safe.
According to a 2015 Harris poll, 95 percent of dog owners consider their pets a member of the family. (And about half of respondents said they even bought them birthday presents.) But having a dog is mutually beneficial for the beloved pet and loved owner; Time magazine reports that studies have shown people with pets tend to have lower blood pressure and a lower risk of heart disease. Many of these health benefits can be attributed to the extra exercise required to play with and walk a pet, coupled with the stress relief of having an ever-present friend by your side.
A popular TED talk by Yuko Morita eloquently explained how Morita became one of Japan’s very first facility dog trainers. After her dog, Bailey, successfully provided much-needed emotional support to the patients at a Yokohama children’s clinic in Japan, the dog trainer became an advocate for bringing dogs into hospitals everywhere. She truly believes in their ability to assuage anxious situations and create an environment of calm.
In a recent Forbes article, writer Shelcy V. Joseph says there are several attributes our dogs can teach us about leadership:
– Empathy. To care for pets, you have to be prepared to take on the responsibility of catering to their needs because unlike kids, they can’t feed themselves. You have to walk them, make sure they get enough food, groom them … this teaches you incredible empathy toward another living creature.
– Commitment. A dog isn’t a sometimes-commitment. It’s a daily commitment to care for their well-being. You have to maintain a schedule (dogs love routine) and deliver on your promises of food, water and exercise.
– Discipline. When training your dog about what’s right and wrong, you learn how to motivate and critique someone with a different set of skills and wisdom than you possess.
– Listening. Pets are fantastic listeners, (they don’t have much of a choice in the matter). They learn our habits and show us unconditional love. We also need to listen to them, even when it may be hard to know what they’re communicating.
– Trust and respect. While your pet will love you no matter what, you also have to work to gain your pet’s trust. You have to respect their boundaries and learn how to make them comfortable in their environment.
– Patience. Training a new pet takes a lot of time and patience. Owners must enforce good behavior and discourage bad behavior, just as any leader would do for any member of their team.
So, what’s the message? There’s so much we can learn about leadership from our pets. The dog is the direct descendant of the gray wolf, in fact dogs are basically domesticated wolves. There’s a famous anecdote that describes how wolves move in a pack, and it directly relates to leadership. The first three wolves are the old or sick; they walk in front and set the pace of the entire pack. (If the stronger walked in front of them, these wolves get left behind.) The next five are the strongest wolves, responsible for protecting the three front elderly wolves from attack. In the center are the rest of the pack members, followed by five strong wolves to protect the pack from behind. Finally, at the end of the pack is the last wolf, the alpha or the real leader. This wolf controls everything from his position at the back of the pack, making sure no wolf is left behind. He sees everything and can provide direction to the pack. It’s fascinating to recognize the leader of the wolf pack walks behind. Leadership isn’t always about being first or out front. Like Kona watching over my backyard garden or Maguire sitting on the front porch, being a leader is about positioning yourself so you can survey, protect and care for your team.
This article is adapted from Blefari’s weekly, company-wide “Thoughts on Leadership” column from HomeServices of America.