What Makes a Leader?

Photo by Kevin Lowery | www.kevinlowery.com

Photo by Kevin Lowery | www.kevinlowery.com

What do you think of when you think of a leader? Although many people might conjure up a vision of someone powerful or authoritative, a new study shows that the best leaders are humble leaders.

It's hard to imagine what it would mean for the world of companion animal training if this concept was applied there, too. The idea of being a "pack leader" with dogs has become widely mainstream all over the world, but it's a dangerous and flawed concept. When we make the decision to be the forceful, authoritative leader of our dogs, we lose the chance to build trust and bond with them.

A new study was conducted on what makes the best leaders in the human workplace. Interestingly, one of the top characteristics was humility. Employees working under a leader that showed humility and altruistic or selfless behavior were not only happier, but also performed better in the workplace.

When dogs are constantly pushed around, "corrected," or forced into submission, something terrible happens. They lose their ability to focus, to learn, and are ultimately pushed to breaking point. For some dogs, this may show itself as aggression or a fearful response. Other dogs shut down completely and enter a state of "learned helplessness." Just like an employee might lose focus, get burned out, or become less productive due to poor management, dogs also suffer at the hands of poor and punitive leadership.

We owe it to our dogs to be good leaders. Unlike most human employees, dogs don't get a say in who their leader is. If dogs are miserable with the "management", they don't have the option of finding a new leader. Studies have shown that dogs trained using forceful, punishment-based techniques are more distracted, have less ability to learn and focus less on their handler. Is that the kind of leader you want to be?

If you can build a bond with your dog based on mutual trust rather than trying to dominate or force your dog into submission, the odds are that your dog will love to work for you and with you. When you work as a team with your dog as a humble leader, the possibilities are endless.

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  • Language can be a tricky and even divisive thing - so it all depends on the definition one uses for "leader" or "leadership".

    For me, I do promote leadership to my clients in the following context: "Be the type of leader that your dog will willingly choose to follow." Note the use of the words 'willingly' and 'choose' as that's the key: Freedom to choose.

    Forcing or compelling your dog to do as you say is bullying, not leadership. Giving your dog no choice but to comply is being a dictator, not a leader. But being a person your dog (or child, or colleague, etc.) will willingly choose to look to, listen to, and follow... by my definition, that's leadership.

  • Chris

    I'm confused, another article I read on this site stated that dogs are not wolves, and humans clearly are not dogs, ergo pack mentality is not applicable to the human - canine relationship. So if the pack mentality doesn't apply because dogs aren't wolves, why then would the "humble leader" mentality apply when dogs are not humans? I've been training dogs for over 10 years and have employed the pack mentality since day one. Being the pack leader isn't about scaring your dog into submission, rather using positive experiences to shape and mold your dog, and using canine correction methods when appropriate.

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