How My Dogs Taught Me to Be a Better Leader
Owning a business can be tricky to navigate. It requires certain skills and traits for it to be successful.
As a serial entrepreneur who has founded both for profit and nonprofit organizations over the past 17 years, I can say that I have picked up a thing or two along the way.
Yes, I’ve had many great mentors and colleagues who have been instrumental to my success. I’ve certainly made plenty of mistakes from which I’ve learned.
However, some of the most important entrepreneurial lesson I’ve learned have come from an unexpected source: My dogs.
One of my business endeavors is a nonprofit animal rescue. We save pets no one else wants - abused, abandoned, and neglected. Many have serious medical and/or behavioral issues. Needless to say, it takes certain qualities to provide care for and rehabilitate pets that come from a very difficult background.
Like with entrepreneurship and running a business, not many are up for the task.
I came to realize that the qualities required for taking care of and rehabilitating once mangy, bedraggled dogs are not much different than those required for running a business and leading people.
Structure and Discipline
Dogs need structure and discipline. This helps with their behavior, anxiety and prevents issues such as destructive chewing, unwanted soiling, jumping, or other undesirable behaviors.
It also establishes you as the pack leader.
According to the Encyclopedia of Small Business: “An organizational structure defines the scope of acceptable behavior within an organization, its lines of authority and accountability, and to some extent, the organization’s relationship with its external environment.”
In order for you to have a successful business and be a leader people will follow, you must have structure and discipline. It gives people clear lines to follow. It provides a sense of accountability. It provides guidance and clarity.
Without a solid organizational structure, you won’t have the human resources with the right skills to accomplish your company’s goals. You run the risk of reduced productivity, poor communication, misalignment in the decision making process, employee issues, and the inability to grow your business.
I’ve dealt with all sorts of issues when it comes to animal rescue and fostering dogs– everything from round-the-clock care, aggression, and puppies; cleaning up constant messes; emergency vet visits at 11:00 at night; dealing with the constant stream of drama and emotion.
In business, we encounter a variety of different situations and personalities. Some are pleasant and cooperative, and some make you want to pull your hair out.
A successful leader needs to have the patience to be able to work with just about anyone and deal with just about anything.
Patience is key when it comes to negotiations, communications, and the strategic goals we’ve set out to achieve.
There are lots of twists and turns during every entrepreneurial journey. Having the patience to calmly handle the curve balls that get thrown at us ensures we remain focused on the task at hand.
Patience helps us make better decisions. It gives us the ability to work steadily towards our goals. And, it increases our threshold of tolerance when it comes to dealing with difficult people and personalities.
Patience is unquestionably one of the most challenging things for us to exercise as human beings, but it’s necessary for progress and communication.
In animal rescue, anything can happen at any time, especially with the daily life or death situations. You have to be flexible and know things can change in an instance. You have to be able to go with the flow and adapt to unexpected circumstances.
A vital quality every successful entrepreneur should have is flexibility. While structure and discipline are quintessential to running a smooth operation, it is unrealistic to have rigid expectations for your business and leave no room for change or evolution.
Whether it means changing your business model to grow and scale, changing your pricing structure, or outsourcing or hiring more people, entrepreneurs must have a sense of flexibility in order to survive.
Times get tough in business, so many business owners (present party included) often consider pivoting to meet the changing needs of customers in their niche.
For example, I’ve had a PR agency for the past 17 years, but people aren’t hiring PR agencies any more- at least not like they used to. I’ve had to pivot from just being a PR practitioner to more of a marketing agency and business coach. I had to learn to be flexible in order to survive.
Dogs are some of the most resourceful creatures I know. Mine seem to be exceptionally enterprising. My pug knows when I’m cooking. She doggedly (sorry, I couldn’t help myself) remains right at my feet, staring at the ground, waiting for a little morsel to drop. She’s definitely an opportunist.
I’ve always been the “if you can’t get in through the door, go through the window” type, or in my case, the doggy door.
Opportunities are everywhere in business. We just need to know where and how to find them.
Resourcefulness is a mindset. It drives you to find a solution when things get difficult. It inspires out-of-the-box thinking and a way to visualize achieving what you desire.
To gain a resourceful mindset, keep an open mind. Be confident in your abilities. Have a “can do” attitude, and never ever give up.
“Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right.” Henry Ford.
My dogs follow me everywhere. When I get up from the couch, they follow me to the kitchen, or bathroom, or where ever. They see me not only as their caretaker, but as their leader. They know who’s boss, and they willingly follow. I’ve given them a sense of security. I changed their lives for the better.
To be an effective leader in business, one who everyone wants to follow, you need to guide and mentor. You need to inspire and give them a sense of purpose — a sense of identity. You need to respect them and be willing to stand up for them.
A good leader makes things happen. They have a sense of humility and know that they are just as much a part of the team or tribe that they are leading.
Additional Business Lessons from the Dogs
· Be eternally optimistic
· Forgive and move on
· Trust your instincts
· Work hard to touch people’s lives
· Don’t take everything so seriously
Being an entrepreneur is tough. Rescuing dogs has not only helped me maintain a sense of calm and sanity through it all; they have taught me that there is something much bigger outside of myself. They’ve taught me how to be a better human being, which ultimately makes me a better business leader.
You can train a dog to sit, stay, roll over, what have you. However, if we are open to it, there is so much we can learn from them as well.