What does a dog have to do with one of the most important lessons of leadership?

We got a new family dog Snickers April 17th.  She is just 10 weeks old.  So she has to learn all the family rules, structure and situation.  Literally she is like a little baby.  Now my kids lobbied hard for this dog.  It was a four year discussion that had lots of talk about the “responsibility” of owning a dog.  We explained that they would have to feed the dog, take it out to go potty, and play with it.  Of course they said they would absolutely do it all.

Now as you can guess in four years we had a multitude of discussions on this with much spirited debate and healthy dialogue of what “taking care of the dog” really looks like.

So let’s fast forward to this last Saturday.  My husband and I went out for a Saturday night date.  All three kids (ages 14, 10 & 8 years old) were told to play with the dog and wear her out so she sleeps through the night.  By this time I had trained her to stay in her kennel from 10 pm to 6:30 AM in the morning.  As you can guess, the one getting up every morning since we got the dog was me, Mom.

So we come home from our date and the dog is in the kennel. At 5:30 AM the dog is sounding like high pitched hyena caught in a trap.  So my question to you, is what do you do?


  1. Go down and take care of the dog.
  2. Let the dog cry for an hour until 6:30 AM comes around.
  3. Do you get your spouse to take care of her, because, after all you have been doing it for every day and it is his turn.
  4. Do you get entire family up to take care of her?

Take a moment to seriously think about this because there are implications to each of the above decisions that will impact the life long behavior.

Let’s look at the leadership implications and messaging of each decision:

  1. You go down and take care of the dog.  This now confirms for the dog that she can wake you up earlier and you will take care of her.  It breaks the train of control and the Alpha Dog cycle you have created.  It literally can undo the entire week of training.
  2. Let the dog cry until 6:30 AM.  This option seems pretty logical.  However, it punishes the dog when she isn’t the one at fault.  She is just following her biological needs and her sleep cycle.  After all, if she went to bed at 8:30 PM it seems logical that she would want to get up earlier.  It also doesn’t change the behavior of any one else at this point.
  3. Have your husband take care of her.  This seems logical because he should see what you have been doing every morning, he needs to establish an Alpha Dog pattern with the dog as well and he is an adult so he understands the need.  But will this option cause the children to do anything different next week?
  4. Have the entire family get up.  This seems the most cruel and punishing- for both you and them.  For you, because you now have to deal with cranky and out of sort children all day long.  Mopey faces will stare out at you and possibly snarly comments as they feel “sleep deprived.”  It feels cruel for them because after all, they are kids and they need their sleep-especially the teenager.  This, though, is the only option that will change the entire family’s behavior.

So yes, at 5:30 AM the entire family got up.  One had to clean the poop out of the cage and then wash the tshirts in there.  Another child had to take her out for a walk to go to the bathroom.  Another had to re-line the cage and then play with the dog.

Now this entire time was done without yelling.  What I told the kids is, “there are consequences to every decision.  You chose to put her in her kennel early so you need to deal with the consequences.  This is what I do every morning since we got her.  We are a family so we all need to share in the taking care of this dog.”

Actually the morning turned out pretty good.  One child came in and made homemade blueberry muffins with me, while another made eggs for the family, while the third child played with the dog.  We ended up having a 6:30 AM breakfast and laughing and joking. (Lest you wonder what my husband was doing this entire time, he was playing with and taking care of the dog as well!)

But I know the kids learned a more valuable lesson in their brain then they ever would have gotten from me taking care of Snickers and just telling them what happened because of them putting her in to the kennel early.  They also now know that any time they put her in early they will be the ones to deal with the consequences, not Mom and Dad.

Leadership lessons are taught every day to your team by the decisions you make.  Sometimes the right decision for the long-term is also the one that gives you the greatest short term pain.

You need to think of the consequences of each decision you make.

  • Option 3- You teach that responsbility can rest only on the shoulders of  a few. It is often easier to pick option 3 and put whoever is most responsible on your team in charge of fixing the mistake the team made.  That way, you as a leader, at least know that everything will be done properly.  Pretty soon you will find this person will become overloaded, frustrated, and no longer the “high quality” worker you want.  On top of that, the others will begin to rely on that person taking care of everything. Option 1 and 2 can seem sweet.  Option 2 is where we ignore the p
  • Option 2- You punish the wrong party. You may change that parties behavior but you never really fix the real problem.  You instead bury it.
  • Option 1-You create a “the leader” will always take care of any mistake. This leads to less critical thinking on your team and more reliance on you.
  • Option 4-You let everyone see the impact of their decisions, participating in fixing it and allow them to learn from their mistakes. It has been proven that the biggest way your dopamine receptors learn is by making mistakes and learning from them.  These lessons are then passed on to the Front Cortex so your brain can make a better choice next time.

A great man once said, “You can live with the pain of regret or the pain of discipline.”

Take Action: Think about something your team is not doing that you would like them to do.  Then reflect on what you may be doing that is actually STOPPING them from executing the way you want.