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Everything I Needed to Learn About Management, I Learned from a Dog

Magazine ,

By Josh Gold, CAE, CMP
Executive Vice President

Shortly after the New Year, I had the good fortune to spend several days with a certain puggle I’m quite fond of. Dexter is a mix of a pug and a beagle, and he’s happy, enthusiastic, and affectionate. 

I get some of my best — or at least most interesting — ideas when I’m walking outdoors. One day when I was walking with Dexter, it occurred to me that he possesses many attributes that could be beneficial for human managers. Hear me out.

Dexter is very alert. He pays attention to what’s going on around us, and he’s quick to let me know when there's a pending issue (or sometimes just a Shih Tzu walking past the house).

Dexter is perceptive. Just as a good manager can pick up on when a team member may be off his game, Dexter somehow knows when I've had a tough day at work and offers me extra affection. 

He understands the importance of downtime. He takes time to relax and enjoy his free time — well, I suppose all of his time is "free time," but he can spend hours just taking in a good sunbeam on the hardwood floor. We could all stand to stop and enjoy the simple joys of life now and then.

Speaking of downtime, Dexter appreciates the importance of getting plenty of sleep. While I strive to get a mere seven hours a night, this guy spends at least twice that much time sleeping. That can be helpful if you need to be ready to hunt — or deal with a crisis — on a moment’s notice. 

Dexter doesn’t hold a grudge. If I forget to give him a treat one night, he’s not going to give me the cold shoulder the next day. I’m not sure any animals other than humans hold grudges, or hold onto anger long past the perceived slight or wrongdoing. Holding onto past resentments isn’t healthy in any aspect of our lives, and it’s certainly not helpful for a leader striving to coach employees to success.

On the other hand, he never forgets a friendly face. It doesn't matter how much time has elapsed between my visits with him, he always greets me enthusiastically, as he does for others he has spent quality time with. For that matter, he’s pretty enthusiastic about new people he meets, too. That could be because he’s always looking for new ways to get more food or belly rubs.  

He’s no pushover, though. In fact, Dexter is a fierce defender of those he cares about. If he perceives a threat to one of his “pack,” the fur on his back will stand up, and he'll offer his growl and bared teeth. I’m not suggesting that a leader should try to be intimidating in defending a team member – but your team members should know that you’ll stick up for them if they come under fire. If the team member is at fault, you will take corrective measures and work with that individual to address whatever the problem may be. Even so, your team members should know that you will be supportive of their efforts to improve and grow. 

He is present in the moment. Of course, dogs don't own phones or other distractions, but Dexter is certainly single-minded in each task, whether that’s unearthing a bone, digging beneath a fence, or affectionately greeting one of his favorite people. Giving team members your full, undivided attention is a great way to demonstrate their importance to you. That philosophy goes beyond leadership. Being fully present with anyone who is important to you is simply a great way to live life.