"Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm." – Publilius Syrus
I have a client who likes to say that leadership is easy…when you’re winning. The real test is when you’re down.
There is eternal truth in this. One of the greatest challenges for a leader is to maintain a sense of perspective and confidence when buffeted by the waves of change.
Today, these changes are coming fast and furious, including disruption of industries, global workforces, and incessant reorganizations, among others.
In discussing change management in a training class recently, I wrote on a flip chart the phrase: “Calm, Assertive Leadership” and a woman shouted, “The Dog Whisperer.” She was right. I was referring to Cesar Millan’s well-known TV show.
I read widely in my research on leadership and communication to bring the best ideas and strategies to my clients. As I read Cesar’s books and understood his approach, I saw very clearly that his methods give great insights into leadership and communication for humans.
Be the pack leader
One of his books, in particular, said it all: Be the Pack Leader. Cesar notes that he doesn't train the dogs; he trains the owners – to be leaders of their dogs.
Think about this:
Your dog wants consistent energy. Cesar says that dogs sense the energy level of their owners and respond to what he calls “calm-assertive energy.” Instead, most people give their dogs the opposite. “They are emotional, easily upset and frustrated, panicky, weak, or angry,” which is disconcerting to the dogs.
Your dog wants clear messages. Cesar writes that “Dog leaders are also inconsistent with the messages they send, so their dogs don’t know what to expect from one minute to the next. Is my owner the pack leader? Am I the pack leader? A confused dog is an unhappy dog.”
Your dog sees your intent through body language and tone of voice. One of my favorite Far Side cartoons features a man scolding his dog, saying “Okay, Ginger. I’ve had it. You stay out of the garbage…” In the next panel, we see what Ginger hears, which of course, is “Blah, blah, blah, Ginger.” Dogs don’t understand our words, but they know what we mean.
This is certainly good advice for dog owners, and you might try applying these insights. But I don’t focus on dogs, I focus on people.
So please do this at work and at home: Re-read those three points and instead of thinking “dog,” think “person/people.” Think about what you bring to your colleagues and family in these three areas.
If you did re-read those points, you'd recognize that we are much more aligned with our animal friends than we sometimes believe.
Body language and intention
Scientific research – particularly neuroscience – is delving deeply into the incredible number of signals we humans send to one another through our energy, our intentions, and our body language and tone.
So much of what we convey comes not from the specific words, but the context and delivery of the message. In coaching leaders whose behavior doesn’t align with their words, I often say, “they can’t hear a word you’re saying, because your body language is so loud.”
There are, of course, great differences between dogs and us in leadership – and not necessarily in our favor.
Cesar said that dogs would refuse to follow dogs with negative or unbalanced energy, whereas humans will. “Animals don’t follow unstable pack leaders; only humans promote, follow, and praise instability…That’s because all animals can evaluate and discern what balanced energy feels like…We humans continue to follow the unstable energy of our leaders – which is why we don’t live in a peaceful, balanced world.”
To achieve the calm-assertive energy, Cesar says that you have to get your emotions and your intentions to line up in harmony. “If you are ‘acting’ tough, but inside still feeling terrified, your dog will know it instantly. Your boss might not, but your dog definitely will. When your insides and your outsides conflict, you are powerless in the animal world,” he writes.
Cesar explains how to improve your approach: “…our human minds are incredibly powerful tools, and with the power of intention, we can actually change our feelings – not just on the surface, but from the inside out.
“If you can positively project the intention you desire through real strength and honesty, your dog will instantly react to that calm-assertive energy.”
My guess is that the people around you will react the same way to your calm-assertive energy.
Please give it a try, but don’t even think about faking it. Your dog is watching.