I’ve read what seems like a bazillion books on how to be a leader.

I bet you have, too.

Most of them are awful, a few are OK, but none has rung my chimes. Yet I’ve been consistently told I’m a good leader. So where did I pick up these skills?

Other than the trite, “treat people the way you’d like to be treated,” the only idea I can come up with is a life lived with dogs. Seriously.

A Life With Dogs

I grew up in a big house in the country. My parents had a soft spot for any dog that needed a home, and the word got out. Back then, we were the crazy people who lived up on the hill with all the dogs, not a family engaged in rescuing strays. The dogs were an integral part of the family: protectors, varmint-removers, a great alarm system, snugglers on a cold night. 

Definitely NOT a leader

Let me clarify: I’m not talking about two or three cute little moppets. I mean a pack of 12-15 large Dalmatians. You know, those big white dogs with black spots that Disney made a few movies about. They run about 60-75 pounds, and they can be formidable protectors. They need a lot of exercise and make great companions for country kids looking for adventure.

When I was very little, our alpha female took a strawberry ice cream cone away from me.

I cried about it to my father but got no sympathy. He told me I needed to be the alpha. So the lessons started. The alpha female was deaf, and all commands had to be issued using both words and hand signals. 

Pretty soon I was giving commands to these large dogs–and they were obeying. 

Getting Feedback–Whether You Want It or Not

Decades later, I flew home for my mother’s memorial service. In the interim, I’d built businesses, led teams, learned to be a good project manager and, eventually, a leader.

After the service, a tiny, elderly woman approached me with great determination. Peering up at me, she shook a finger in my face and claimed everyone in town thought my mother was crazy. And that it was creepy to see a little girl have a pack of dogs do exactly what she wanted without having to say anything.

Lessons for a Leader

What did I take away from this experience?

  1. People remember leaders–even when they’re little kids in charge of a bunch of big dogs.
  2. You can learn a lot from dogs.

Stay tuned for more in this series, Leader of the Pack.