Learning in Unlikely Places

I love to watch Cesar Millan’s “The Dog Whisperer” program on TV. I am a dog lover and currently share an office and home with Edgar the Leadership Pug, who is wise beyond his pug-ness about how to lead his human pack. My husband and I have learned a thing or two from Edgar and Cesar’s show in order to take pack leadership back into our hands, where it belongs.

Cesar’s skill is not only the work he does with the dogs. His true gifts are in teaching the dog’s owners that well behaved canines are really about the owner’s willingness and ability to step up to being a (pack) leader. The lessons he teaches are insightful for any leader.

Note: I don’t intend this post to compare leaders and employees to dogs, but rather to emphasize that the lessons of leadership can be learned in a variety of ways. If you are a dog lover (and maybe even if you aren’t) you can learn a lot from Cesar.

Some of the leadership lessons Cesar teaches us humans:

In order to lead your dog well, you must understand how they want to be treated: Cesar shows that the best trained dogs are treated as – well, a dog would want to be treated if they were part of a pack. As an organizational leader, it is important that you get to know your people. What are their strengths? How do they want to use them? How can you best lead them?

Clearly communicate your rules, boundaries and limitations: Communicating with our canine friends is not easy, but it must be clear and in their “language”. Similarly, followers are looking for clarity in your expectations. Find a way to communicate them simply and well. Then repeat your expectations in as many ways possible.

Use calm, assertive energy: Cesar teaches humans that screaming, yelling and anger only serve to escalate the energy of the dog to that level; they are ineffective at best and can be destructive. Organizational leaders who use these techniques must also find a way to stop using these emotions that can be “caught” like viruses in the organizations they lead.

Imagine a successful scenario: Cesar works with humans to understand that their pets can, and do, change. Likewise, organizational leaders must believe that their employees have great potential and recognize when it is realized.

If you stay alert, you might find lessons in leadership where you least expect it. What are the unlikely places that you find leadership wisdom?

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Mary Jo Asmus is the founder and President of Aspire Collaborative Services LLC, an executive coach, writer, internationally recognized thought leader, and a consultant who partners with organizations of all kinds to develop and administer coaching programs. She has “walked in your shoes” as a former leader in a Fortune company.


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