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Leadership Lessons from A Puppy

We now have a new puppy!

Fiona Tonks joined our family a few weeks ago. Fiona is the cutest, sweetest, little baby boxer puppy. She has cute floppy ears, teeth like a piranha, and a heart of gold. This not-even-eight-pound bundle of happiness and terror (she likes to nibble at our ankles) has brought so much joy into our home. And Lincoln, our nine-year-old pitbull, also loves Fiona. I don’t even mind the middle-of-the-night trips outside for potty breaks. Fiona’s cartoon-like puppy-dog-eyes and floppy ears make it all worth it. My heart still has a Mia-Valentina-shaped hole. Yet, it has grown bigger for Fiona. 

The other day, as I sat in the backyard watching Fiona and Lincoln play, I enjoyed watching Fiona explore. She picks up twigs and runs, stops to take in a whiff of something, and then runs again to chase a sound. She stops for breaks and goes into zoomies when she wants to. I realized at that moment that Fiona re-teaches me a few things about leadership. 


Fiona Lesson #1: Be curious 

Fiona is a curious little dog. She approaches all her “firsts” with awe. When she sees something she is interested in, she runs to it and sniffs it (or tries to eat it). She may pick up a leaf, play around with it, carry it in her mouth, sit with it, and do anything else she wants. When she hears a sound, she perks up and listens intently. Fiona has zero regard for what is appropriate or grand. If she is interested in something she follows her curiosity and explores the possibilities.  

What if we approached the new with curiosity and expectation of the possibilities? What might we discover if we examine old problems with new eyes? Or, how about approaching that challenging coworker or teammate with curiosity about what their values and thought process might be? What if we approach challenges with curiosity about the lessons we may learn and new inspiration we may find? 


Fiona Lesson #2: Practice mindfulness 

Fiona’s attention span seems to last 15 seconds. She hops from eating out of her bowl to chasing Lincoln, to chewing the curtains, and on to whatever she is curious about. Although her interests shift in seconds, in those 15 seconds she is mindfully engrossed in the activity of the moment. Fiona gives 100 percent of her attention to the one thing of the moment. She revels in it and has fun.  

I do not recommend context-switching every 15 seconds. That said, what if we give ourselves fully into whatever we do in the moment, whether it is five minutes or five hours? What if we stop pretending we can effectively multitask and instead give full attention to the people we encounter and the activities we work on? Might we better see our colleagues and the people we lead? Would we have deeper connections and relationships? Build trust? Better care for one another? Have better reading comprehension? More creativity? 

When I’m with Fiona in the backyard, I find myself mindfully looking at the little things with deep appreciation. Instead of seeing dirt and grass, I can see how a single blade of grass is a bridge for an ant to get to its important ant business. I hear the light rustle of leaves on the big oak tree that provides me with shade while Fiona runs after Lincoln. I hope to see the people around me with such care and to mindfully do my work so that I can be effective and efficient. 


Fiona Lesson #3: Practice self-care. 

When Fiona is hungry, she eats. When she wants to run, she lets the zoomies take over. When Fiona is tired, she takes a nap. Even if the tiredness hits her right after a session of zoomies, she plops in that very spot and lays down for a snooze. Fiona does not care about perfection, expectations, or politics. She does what is required to take care of her needs. Fiona doesn’t overthink how others might perceive her if she takes a rest or gets a snack. She does what she wants. The result is that she is happy and has the energy to be curious, experience all the new things, and have fun.  

How cool would it be if, like a puppy, we listened to what our bodies tell us and tended to our needs? Imagine the energy we would have if we pushed out that meeting to make time for a proper lunch break, go for a walk in the sunshine, eat when we are hungry, and take a nap when we need one. Might we have more balance? Might we lead more effectively and make a greater impact at work? Have greater clarity to make decisions so that our words and actions are congruent with our values and purpose? 

 I am thankful for these leadership lessons from a puppy, Miss Fiona Tonks. 


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