Leadership Lessons from Bacchus Part 1: Keeping Your Eye on the Goal
Being a leader is tough business. You have to set direction for your team; ensure every team member is on board; decide how to allocate resources; reward positive behavior when you see it; reshape negative behavior when it becomes apparent, and create and maintain a healthy workplace. A leader also must help the team support each other; ensure that the business at hand is getting completed, and intentionally include everyone so that they all feel a part of the team, and that they want to contribute.
I’ve been very privileged in my career to have lead many different teams, with a wide variety in scope, scale, and, even, success. I’ve read the books; I’ve attended (and actually led) webinars about how to become a better leader, and I constantly strive to maintain a high degree of self-awareness of how my behavior, as well as the choices I make, affect those around me-in classes I facilitate, other groups I work with, and within the circle of my family and friends.
Overall, I would say I was doing relatively well until last Saturday, August 6, 2011 when my effectiveness, the very essence of my leadership, would begin a long journey of being constantly tested. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I adopted a 4 month old puppy, Bacchus.
Bacchus is a Golden Retriever/German Shepherd mix. He has already survived being abandoned in a shelter, a bout with parvo, and is honestly very lucky to be here. I’m lucky to have him. And our relationship is off to a great start.
As I began to reflect on the week, I realized how many parallels there were between being the “leader” of something-be it a team, organization, function, or even pack-and being the grownup for a puppy. You can’t fix everything at once, so our focus this week largely on housebreaking and crate training.
Like any good leader, I had read the literature about “how” to do it. Positive reinforcement, praise and reward for a job well done; negative words immediately when the undesired behavior happens so as not to lose context-all those things look great in a tri-fold glossy brochure from the adoption agency. But the consistency of actions, both his and mine, are what’s key for our long term success. Bacchus quickly reminded me that life was more complex than a tri-fold.
I’ve had to adjust some of my expectations (as I’m sure he has as well), but what I’m finding is success comes from “being” in the moment. It comes from understanding that we’re both just learning how each other operates, just as we do on our teams. It comes from understanding that when Bacchus (or one of our employees) has an “accident,” that it’s just that-an accident. There’s no harm intended, no malice implied. And although we as leaders can get angry, we often also realize that we have a part in their “accidents,” as well as in their successes.
Why do you lead others? Chances are, you find some type of gratification in it. For Bacchus and me, it’s because we both want to forge a friendship that will last a lifetime. When you’re leading others, remember to keep your eyes on the mutual goal, but enjoy the “moments” that exist in the interim. That’s what Bacchus is currently teaching me. The soft bellies and puppy breath are just some of the perks.