Be a Better Leader by Wagging Your Tail

Jack Russell Terrier Looking Sad

Dogs can teach us a thing or two. Have you ever thought about how to apply canine behavior to your leadership style? There are interesting approaches your dog would encourage you to try if you want to be a better leader.

Today’s post is by Krissi Barr, co-author of The Fido Factor: How to Get a Leg Up at Work.

If you’re like most Americans you love dogs. Unlike a goldfish won at a church festival, people form deep and meaningful relationships with their canine pals.

So what does any of this have to do with leadership? As it turns out, a lot.

Leadership is more art than science, and more emotion than logic. The actions and behaviors that roll up to form an effective leader, when you boil them down, are actually pretty simple. And they are very similar to why we love dogs so darn much.

Dogs are faithful, inspirational, determined and observant. These four core qualities—the Fido Factors—are the basis of the unexpected reason why we can learn leadership lessons from dogs.

Take a dog’s tail. It’s a crystal clear barometer of how they are feeling. Happy and it wags like crazy, guilty and it curls under out of shame. Dogs are simply incapable of hiding how they feel. They can’t lie.

Not so much with humans. Like a professional poker player, most of us have gotten very good at hiding our emotions in the workplace. And while there are times when that’s a good thing, more often than not we’d benefit from wagging our tail a little more.

Dogs don’t hide how they feel. Take a typical day coming home after work. There to greet you at the front door is your dog. His smiling face, a slobbery tennis ball in the mouth and a wagging tail tell you in no uncertain terms how happy he is to see you. This wear-it-on-the-collar approach to life is one of the reasons we love them so much.

Great leaders at work do the same. Well, maybe not the slobbery tennis ball. They aren’t afraid to open up and show emotion. As a result, coworkers feel a stronger connection to the cause.

Ask yourself this: when one of your associates comes back to the office after a long day in the field, how do you react? Do you wag your tail and celebrate their successes or do you hide your tail in your office so no one can see how you really feel?

Like kennel cough, happiness is contagious. And it always starts at the top. Great leaders know that a happy team works harder to please customers than a depressed team. The best part is it’s free. It costs you nothing to wag your tail and show how happy you are.

There are many ways to show your team how pleased you are with their actions. Awards and recognition are powerful motivators. Simply mentioning an achievement in a meeting or a pat on the back can provide an extra burst of pride that lasts for months. And once someone has experienced the glow from a wagging tail they will do whatever it takes to feel those positive vibes again.

Most of our communications comes from our body language and the tone of our voice, with our actual words only making up a small fraction of what is conveyed. And while dogs are notoriously poor public speakers, they are very good at understanding the gist of most discussions. They correctly interpret a smile and a happy tone of voice just like we comprehend the meaning of a wagging tail.

The truth is we don’t actually learn new leadership lessons from dogs. They just give us a fresh new perspective on things we’ve known all along. Like a gummy vitamin makes it easier and more enjoyable to do something positive, that’s how dogs are with their leadership lessons.

Want to be a better leader? Wag your tail.

Krissi Barr is CEO of Barr Corporate Success, consultants specializing in strategic planning, executive coaching, and behavioral assessments, and the co-author of The Fido Factor: How to Get a Leg Up at Work.

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Photo: Harvey 2015 by Michael Button

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