Leadership lessons from The Dog Whisperer

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When TV’s Dog Whisperer Cesar Millan visits a home to deal with problem pets, he’s consistent in his message to owners: it’s usually their fault, not the dogs’. Could the same hold true for managers?

“Attitudes and behaviors – both positive and negative – are contagious,” says Kevin Kennemer, principal and owner of The People Group. “How many managers think there must be something wrong with their employees because they don’t do what they want when it was the manager who was the problem?”

The takeaway isn’t that it’s time to start treating your employees like dogs – offering belly rubs at work is asking for a lawsuit – but definite lessons can be learnt about how to be the leader of the pack.

A central tenet of Millan’s retraining, of owners not dogs, is calm, assertive leadership. “Animals don’t follow unstable leaders,” says Millan. “Only humans have leaders who lie and get away with it.”

He talks about the “negative energy” that comes from an inconsistent, aggressive owner. Badly behaved dogs are often just following the lead of their unpredictable owners.

Lessons from the Dog Whisperer

  1. Don’t assume it’s always a problem with the employees, especially if similar problems have come up in the past.
  2. Do some self-reflection and consider what the manager’s leadership style is, and what you would like it to be.
  3. A leader who is calm under stress will earn the respect of their team, who won’t be afraid to approach them with problems because they can predict how they will react.
  4. It’s still important to be assertive, but make sure you know the difference between assertiveness, reactiveness and aggression.
  5. Don’t discipline when you’re angry. Take time to calm down before you correct bad behaviour.

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