9 Essential Leadership Lessons I Learned from My Dog
I was extremely fortunate to have one of the most extraordinary dogs in history.
Ripley, aka the “The Mayor of Tanglewood” – a close-knit, sunny community we called home – was known all around the ‘hood as the official neighborhood greeter. His reach was far and effective; his likeability legendary.
As Ripley grew from a pup, I learned many things from him; distinct characteristics he showed to me, and all who would notice, with such clarity. Certainly he was more intelligent than the average dog. “He really is Ripley’s Believe it or Not,” people would say.
Reflecting on Ripley’s behaviors always filled me with a sense of motherly pride. He was most assuredly a leader in our community. In fact, he set the standard for how we all interacted. He even displayed the characteristics highlighted in John Bell’s recent 5 Characteristics of Leaders Who Excel Under Fire on Switch & Shift post.
But that isn’t all I learned from Ripley. Ripley was a canine coach; a furry mentor. So today I share with a different kind of “leadership lab” – nine leadership lessons from Ripley.
9 Leadership Essentials
1. Be a Greeter
Ripley was coined “The Mayor” for good reason. Ripley was approachable. Even more than that, Ripley, insisted on meeting and greeting everyone within his domain much like the owner of a company would when walking the factory floor. He would look them in the eye and perhaps shake hands. He would build a relationship.
Relationships matter. Specifically, human-to-human (versus employee-boss) relationships matter. Today’s leader must be approachable, likeable – and even vulnerable.
2. Be Available
Ripley was also available. He was always ready to greet his public with a wag and a lick, no constituent too small for his attention; no walk was too far to say hello. Leaders of companies, especially those in the public eye, need to be just as willing to shake hands, and get to know their people, as Ripley.
3. Be Inclusive
Above all else, Ripley was inclusive. He brought people together. He was a connector.
Ripley had many friends around the neighborhood; his afternoon walk in the park quickly became a ritual: “Doggy Happy Hour” where us humans would bring drinks and treats for the dogs (and sometimes for each other). Those neighbors are still good friends today – and most would not be, if it wasn’t for Ripley.
Leaders should be that good at bringing people together; to help employees, customers and vendors find common ground and form partnerships, even friendships. After all, partners work to the mutual-benefit of everyone – and friends keep each other accountable and provide caring support when needed.
4. Don’t Judge a Book…
As Ripley would say, if he could talk: “Do not judge a book by their cover; smell them instead!”
Ripley had many types of friends; species, color, size and appearance did not matter to him. The other person or dog’s behavior and actions determined whether or not Ripley considered you an ally.
Leaders should be so open. They should judge someone only by the trail that they leave behind with their character, work ethic, productivity and ability to collaborate with others. (I would not however, recommend butt sniffing, which is frowned upon in most workplaces.)
5. Be Righteous
If Ripley, no matter how engrossed he was in canine play, saw or sensed there was an injustice happening (a doggy rift or a voice raised) would run straight into the middle of the fray. He saw it as his duty to balance the equation. I would cover my eyes and wait it out: “Oh, Ripley, why do you have to be the Mayor and the Sheriff?
A leader must stand up for what is right. Whether it’s their job or not, they must correct what is wrong. And sometimes, that means being the mayor, the sheriff, the mentor – or even the counselor. A leader must be many things to many people… just like Ripley.
6. Take Action
Ripley never had time to stop and think about how to handle an issue or settle a conflict. He jumped in and stopped it. Had he delayed even a few minutes, the situation might have become much worse.
Leaders should be more like Ripley. Rather than looking the other way or hoping the situation resolves itself, they should handle every situation expediently. They should be willing to start the tough conversations. And, ultimately, while putting the mission first, they should take clear and decisive action.
7. Protect Your People
Ripley always seemed to understand that it was his job to protect his “people” – both the human and canine kind. He took this position with everyone of course – this was his team; his domain – but he seemed to take special pride in protecting those who couldn’t always protect themselves.
As a leader, others look up to you. They watch your actions. And they learn from example. As a person with position, power and influence, it is your duty to look out for the interests of the employees. When the dog fight breaks out, and teeth are barred, this is often how a leader is remembered.
8. Be Ready to Take Care of You
Ripley knew: as Mayor of Tanglewood – and as the one always ready to serve his public and keep the peace – it was important to occasionally circle, and take a nap. Ripley worked hard and played hard. And he certainly slept hard. Most important, he knew when it was time to walk up to us, give us that perpetual puppy dog look, and ask for a pat on the head or a belly scratch.
Every great leader has to find time to relax. As driven and as passionate as they are, they must put work on the backburner. For a few hours, or even days, they must recharge their battery. No matter who we are… a pat on the head and a metaphorical belly scratch… always feels good.
Take care of you.
9. Find Your Joy!
Have you ever seen dogs at the beach? While they are with us… the beach is doggy heaven. Pure paradise. Running, swimming, turning, chasing – the tongue wagging fun never stops.
Ripley loved the beach. Having a bad day? The beach was the answer. Struggling to meet commitments? Go to the beach – that fixes everything. Ripley knew exactly what made him happy – and what made everything better. It was his purpose; his real reason for taking on all that responsibility. He relished in it. He never let it go.
We all need moments of joy, pure bliss, to even out the tough things in life. We must balance the times spent doing things we don’t truly enjoy with something we love deeply.
You simply can’t be a remarkable leader… if you don’t have moments of joy.
For all those who said Ripley was so much more than a dog: they were right. He showed us his humanity every day; he taught us how to be better human beings.
Ripley taught us how to lead.
If you enjoyed this article, you may also like 5 Things my Dog Taught Me About Leadership by Craig-Cincotta of Entrepreneur Magazine.
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