By Elijah Medge, Los Angeles, December 2015
Cats and dogs
I’ve had pets all my life. The first was a guinea pig. It had minimal personality, as you might expect of a rodent, but it was all the responsibility I could handle as a young child. My next pet was a cat, who I saw for maybe a few minutes each day. Oddly, she lived with my family for 10 years, and I never even had a name for her. She didn’t like being pet, and she made sure I was aware of her personal space concern by clawing at my arms and hands. My legs suffered too: I’d be innocently walking by, and the cat, in true ninja form, would stealthily pounce on my unassuming feet. Despite our ongoing battle, there were moments of love — typically once a day, when the cat’s bowl was empty. She would endearingly brush up against my wounded legs and meow for food. Unfortunately for my limbs, the love fest was over as soon as her nourishment was delivered.
My current pet is a dog named Perry, and she’s absolutely the best. I smile just thinking about her. She’s friendly to everyone she meets. You could be a complete stranger visiting my house, and within no time Perry will snuggle up on your lap and fall asleep. My favorite part of the day is coming home at night and being greeted with sheer excitement and love. Then sometimes I’ll forget something in the car, leave the house to fetch it, and return 5 minutes later to find Perry just as excited to see me as she was the first time I walked in. Even when I have to scold her for leaving me undesirable “presents” on the floor, she forgives me almost instantly. Perry’s affection isn’t dictated by whether I’ve had a successful day, or one full of frustrations and failures; and it isn’t determined by whether I just provided her with treats or reprimands. She’s genuinely ecstatic to see me no matter what, and as a result, I’m just as excited to see her.
The team dynamic
Throughout a decade of managing all types of people, I’ve noticed similar behavioral patterns between leaders and their team members. I am regularly approached for advice by team leaders who are struggling to get their teams to follow them. I commonly hear complaints from leaders who don’t feel respected by their teams, accompanied by the impression that their coaching and direction are falling on deaf ears. This in turn makes the leader aggravated, leading to self-doubt and a growing resentment towards the team. I’ve also observed a team dynamic that is entirely the opposite. I’ve seen eyes light up when a certain leader walks into a room. In these scenarios, the team is attentive to what the leader has to say and wants make their leader proud. This is the difference between a leader of cats and a leader of dogs. A leader of cats is approached by his team only when they need something, which is a clear sign that the team doesn’t see value in the leader beyond the basics needed for survival. A leader of dogs, however, ignites passion and enthusiasm in those around her. Even if she reprimands her team for poor performance, the team loves her and trusts in her leadership.
So how do you become a leader of dogs?
Leaders of dogs do 3 things to separate themselves from others:
1. Leaders of dogs build personal relationships
Everyone has an emotional bank account that requires a healthy deposit from his or her leader in order for the relationship to be of value. Leaders of dogs go above and beyond to get to know the people on their teams. This typically starts on day one of the relationship and is a result of the leader’s genuine curiosity. Leaders of dogs are emphatically interested in learning about the people around them. They are humble when it comes to their own achievements and are far more interested in discussing the proud moments of others. This personal relationship doesn’t follow a 9 to 5 schedule and isn’t about checking off boxes on a list. A leader of dogs builds genuine connections that often last beyond the tenure of the professional relationship. A leader of cats, however, often approaches his role with an elitist attitude. He doesn’t have much of an interest in getting to know his team beyond the surface level, and doesn’t feel that his people are a worthy investment of his time. This produces a relationship that is largely transactional and ultimately limited in its possibilities.
2. Leaders of dogs are sincere and honest
One of the biggest challenges of leadership is maintaining a quiet inner confidence. Many people find themselves in leadership roles before they have overcome pre-existing vulnerabilities and insecurities. But, it’s important to remember that first step of great leadership is being comfortable in your own skin. The danger in skipping this step is the common tendency of leaders to overcompensate by projecting a large ego. False confidence in a leader is easily detectable by others and can be an instant turn-off to those following. When a leader isn’t genuine or fails to take accountability for his mistakes, he loses credibility with his team. If this happens more than once, the leader risks leading a team of cats.
3. Leaders of dogs lead by example
Dogs are pack animals and thrive with an excellent leader. If you want dogs on your team, you need to be the best example of whatever you expect from your people. Dogs respect those who have been through the mud and have paid their dues; they are not inclined to follow someone who was assigned a role and hasn’t lifted a finger since. Leaders of cats don’t want to get their hands dirty so they avoid rolling up their sleeves to do the work. It’s no wonder that they have a hard time connecting with their teams who are in the trenches. They’ve never been there themselves! When a team knows that their leader can’t empathize with their struggles, they see no value in approaching him for advice or support.
At the end of the day, I have a respect for all animals and the way they have evolved throughout history. They all have their place in the world, even that guinea pig that I never much liked. However, when it comes to leadership, it’s important to think about the kind of animals you want on your team. It’s even more important to remember that those animals will grow to become a direct reflection of how you choose to lead.
Elijah Medge (Los Angeles, CA) owns and manages direct marketing firms throughout the United States. He is a coach and mentor to budding and experienced entrepreneurs in a variety of industries. Be sure to connect on Facebook and Tumblr.