Traits of a Great Leader – What the Dog Taught Me About Leadership

It’s 6:30am on a dark Saturday morning in February when I begin to hear what sounds like rain hitting the exterior of an aluminum window.

As I slowly open my eyes, I see that it’s not raining; instead, it’s our little dog walking around our bedroom doing his best to wake us hoping to avoid peeing on the hardwood floor.

Tony's dog, Picolino has had struggles with health but is still a positive influence in the lives of others.

Tony’s dog, Picolino has had struggles with health but is still a positive influence in the lives of others.

Sound familiar? If you have a dog, I’m sure that you know all about it! Despite the early wake up calls, the frigid winter walks and the occasional bathroom mistakes, it’s all worth it. Like they do to many, our dog gives us so much happiness, joy and unconditional love in return. Recently, I’ve discovered that he’s also able to teach me about leadership.

Not too long ago, our little nine–year-old Yorkshire terrier Picolino, was diagnosed with diabetes. When the veterinarian diagnosed him, I felt instantly deflated and truth be told, was in shock. I didn’t know the effects of diabetes nor did I know what lay ahead. I was notified that he would need two shots of insulin each day and that his vision would eventually deteriorate and lead to blindness. Suffice to say, I was devastated.

A year has passed and we now have a dog that lives vibrantly with diabetes. Although it was really hard to watch his vision deteriorate, I’m happy to report that Picolino is doing great! He receives his insulin shots and is in overall good health.

So you may be thinking, why are we talking about a dog and how does it relate to powerful leadership?

Let’s quickly examine the definition of leadership as it’s stated in Wikipedia:

Leadership has been described as “a process of social influence in which a person can enlist the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common task.”

Although the definition from Wikipedia may be correct to some, I prefer to look at leadership from a slightly different angle. Simon Sinek, author and speaker on leadership, states, “The truly effective and inspiring leaders aren’t actually driven to lead people; they are driven to serve them.”

I’ve always thought that leadership is one’s ability to serve and make a difference. “For a leader to be a leader he needs a following. And why should any individual want to follow another individual unless they felt that person would look out for them and their interests?” states Sinek.

After being diagnosed with diabetes, Picolino lost his vision but still lives a fulfilled life thanks to the trust build between Tony and himself.

After being diagnosed with diabetes, Picolino lost his vision but still lives a fulfilled life thanks to the trust built between Tony and himself.

This is the case for all business leaders regardless of their number of direct reports. A great leader is one who helps, supports and guides without doing. A great leader goes out of his or her way to ensure their team members are growing, learning, and succeeding as well as being there to support should they fail. Above all, a great leader will work tirelessly to build the most important component, TRUST. The more authentic the trust, the more your team will go above and beyond for you.

Today, our dog is completely blind and relies heavily on my wife and I. Personally; I thought living with a blind dog was going to be very difficult. Instead it has inspired and taught us the value of unyielding trust. We knew that in order to have our dog live a comfortable life, we had to build unbreakable trust; so we did. The trust gave way to confidence, which gave him the desire to learn. His confidence continued to build until he completely mapped our home and became almost entirely self-sufficient.

Here’s what we did and continue to do to build trust quickly:

  1. Speak to him whenever we’re in the room to let him know we are around.
  2. Guide him in his surroundings to help him feel at ease.
  3. Allow him to bump into things while avoiding injury.
  4. Attach bells to his toys so playtime is accessible and fun again.
  5. Acknowledge good behaviour and effort.
  6. Give him lots of love and praise.

The results are shocking … if you didn’t know our dog was blind, you would think he’s a perfectly normal dog. We attribute his success to his awesome resilience, tenacity and the trust we were able to build together, which really helped his confidence. Business is no different! As leaders we must show up to serve and do what ever we can to ensure we build trust. Grade yourself on the following from 1-10 – (10 being always!)

  1. Do you speak to your people often and let them know your there for them?
  2. Do you do your best to guide, coach and mentor them?
  3. Do you allow them to fail at times and encourage them to try again?
  4. Do you think outside the box when challenges arise?
  5. Do you acknowledge, praise and give gratitude?
  6. Do you know what their happiness looks like?
  7. Do you both have fun?
  8. Do you show empathy and commitment?
  9. Do you give honest feedback and build confidence?
  10. Do you show up to serve?

Being a leader is a privilege, being able to serve is an honour!

Tony Gareri

CEO & Culture Enthusiast

Drawing from firsthand experiences, Tony addresses how a culture evolution can lead to improved business results and happier work environments.

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