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Canine Leadership Quiz

I don’t have children, no employees – plants, I have plants.  My plants love me and they create oxygen for me to breathe.  They are pretty and I love them back.   I also pick species that are low maintenance – Pothos Ivy is my specialty.  Anyone can grow this plant.  Anyone.  I am a master grower of Pothos Ivy. Pothos Ivy is really the only living thing I want to be responsible for.

But I like dogs.  They get so excited when you come home.  They like to hang out with you.  They bark at would-be evil doers.  They can do tricks.  Pothos Ivy does no tricks.  Although I did get one to grow up a stick once.

So my boyfriend and I got a puppy.  A female German Shepherd Dog we named Kenda (after Joe Kenda, Homicide Hunter on the ID channel).  I really wanted to call her Little Debbie, but that was vetoed.

Unfortunately puppies are not like Pothos Ivy.  They pee, they poop, they chew.  And Kenda wants to be the leader of our pack.  There is no hierarchy with the Pothos.  I have the water, therefore I am the leader.  There is no office gossip, no drama, and no complaining about the lousy benefits package.

The introduction of a puppy to FireStar International has reinforced why I do not have an army of employees.  In fact, it has reinforced why I have no employees at all (except for the Pothos).  So before you accept a leadership position (or a puppy) I think you should consider the following:

How do you feel about cleaning up someone else’s mistakes?  Puppies make mistakes.  No puppy understands suddenly that it’s supposed to do its business outside.  It’s a process.  And they can’t clean up their own mistakes.  When you don’t have employees, the only mistakes you have to clean up are your own.

Are you willing to take the time to train your employees (and yourself)?  My Pothos take about 30 seconds of my time once a week.  Sometimes if they get too exuberant, I have to cut them back and keep them in their cubicles – uh, I mean their pots.  Kenda is going to Puppy Class so she’ll stop barking wildly at other dogs, people, grasshoppers, and the wind.  The truth is, Kenda isn’t going to Puppy Class – I’m going to Puppy Class, because I am a crappy leader.  Do you share any of my top mistakes?

Inconsistency – sometimes I make her sit and wait before I open the door.  Sometimes I forget or it takes too much time (yeah, 5 extra seconds), and she bolts right out.  So what do I want?  Does she have to wait or not?  Do your employees have to be on time or not?  Obey the dress code or not?  How consistent are you?  How about you, Mom?  Do the homework or not?  Too tired tonight?  Join the club, people! Consistency is hard!  But it’s what we have to do to be effective leaders.

Unrealistic expectations – geez, we worked on down for almost 15 minutes once on Thursday.  Do we have to do it again?  Good grief, if that was all it took, Kenda could be riding a bicycle if I put a couple hours in!  Behavior has to be taught and reinforced consistently over a long period of time before it becomes ingrained.  This takes patience and discipline on the part of the leader. The leader, not the follower!  The follower’s job is to pay attention, try to understand our babbling and get treats.  We need to adjust our expectations and give our followers the time and attention they need to succeed.

Poorly executed rewards – Kenda loves treats.   She will do anything for them.  But sometimes I forget to bring them.  Or I give her one for looking cute.  Or I drop one and she snags it.  It’s a reward free for all.  She doesn’t know what the heck she gets rewards for.  Are your rewards executed well?  Are they immediate?  Frequent?  Personalized?  And clearly linked to the behavior you desire?

I make many more mistakes, but you get the idea.  Puppy Class isn’t for Kenda.  It’s for me.  I have to learn these skills so she can succeed.   How much leadership training have you had?

Can you learn another language?  New employees don’t always speak your language.  Maybe they haven’t had a job in your industry before.  Maybe they don’t quite get all your weird jargon and acronyms.  You can’t lead a team if they don’t understand you.  I yell things at Kenda all the time and she looks at me like this:

img_1285-closerDo you ever feel your employees are looking at you like that?  Well, I don’t like it!  The Pothos never look at me like that.  They understand and obey all my requests.

Your employees may be from a different generation or a different country.  You just might not be the best at face-to-face communication.  Or you may have a remote team and that poses a unique challenge.  If you can’t communicate in a way your people understand, you can’t lead them.

Do you want to be responsible for someone else’s growth and development?  I try to get the right food and take Kenda to the vet, and make sure she’s around other dogs and different people so she won’t be a nut and go crazy when she sees someone wearing a hat.  And she’s just a dog.  When you have an employee, not only do you have to make sure they aren’t afraid of hats, you have to help them do their current job well and you have to look out for them.  You have to make sure if they’re sick, they know they can take time off and you’re not going to fire them.   You have to help them both understand and set boundaries.  You have to protect them. You have to celebrate their victories and coach them through their mistakes.  Leadership comes with a lot of responsibility.

Do you want to deal with conflict?  I know many people in leadership positions who hate conflict.  Unfortunately, leadership has a lot to do with handling conflict.  Leaders have to tell people when they are doing things wrong or how they can do things better.  Leaders have to tell people “no” sometimes.  They have to wade into the muck of workplace drama, confront the players, and get their teams back on track.  If you don’t like this, that’s okay!  Not everyone in the pack is the leader.  There have to be some followers.  Kenda is a sassy pants.  She would totally lead this pack if we’d let her.  She’d walk us down the street, she’d jump, she’d drive my car.  She had to learn her place in the pack.  We all do.  The best leaders are comfortable teaching this and helping you learn to lead your own pack if that’s what you want.

I love my Kenda dog, but I gotta tell ya, at the end of the day, I’m Pothos all the way.

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Marguerite O'Brien
3 years ago

Good girl! (OK, that’s a dog training joke). Once again, you are able to weave important concepts into the things you observe in your life. Thanks for sharing your wisdom. By the way, Kenda is beautiful.

Sandy Ruble
3 years ago

Neither canine husbandry nor leadership in the workplace is for the faint of heart. Done well, either experience can be transformative and rewarding for all involved and inspire those around them. You have beautifully described why it is important to be consistent with planning, expectations and giving rewards. I should know. Instead of being a dog owner or leader, I am an observant, autonomous “mut”, not nearly as gorgeous as Kenda. Working for someone that is inconsistent and rarely shows gratitude is the pits.

M Snipes
3 years ago

LOVE this article about leadership!!! Great analogy between puppies and leadership. Nice job!

Diane green
3 years ago

Loved the article – funny and thoughtful way of delivering the leadership accountability message

donna mcintyre
3 years ago

Best analogy I have ever heard. So thruthful and to the point. I’m above a plant person but I do not want to be in charge. Now I understand why. Love your stuff have a great day. I love Lt Joe Kenda too.

Wendy Becker
3 years ago

Great article! I chuckled at your attachment to your Pothos (you really should name it!) and the antics of Kenda! Work on that procrastination because I look forward to these articles and they are entirely too infrequent! 🙂

3 years ago

Great article. I too have raise German Shepard Dogs (your Kendra looks so much like one of mine) and plants. I work in Human Resources and question many leadership ideas. This article really brings concepts back into perspective.


3 years ago


I haven’t seen you in a while but I needed this today. Your humor and outlook on life has always been right up my alley. You never know when you post something like this who you are “hitting” home with! Today it was me! Thanks!

3 years ago

Heard you speak a long time ago and loved it! look forward to your e thoughts and read them every time. Great speaker, great writer! teaching a leadership class this morning. You’ve given me some morning time food for thought! Thank you!

Janet Rogers
3 years ago

THis is one of the best articles I have ever read and it is so true on all levels. You have nailed this story to real life work environments. We have “leaders” in our company that do NOT know how to lead. I do enjoy reading your articles. You truly are an inspiration and a pleasure to read.
Puppies/dogs are the best teachers of so many human traits. Their eagerness to life in general is one that adults need to stop and mirror in my opinion.
Thanks for the morning read.