This year, I adopted two dogs from K9 PALS a fabulous “no kill” shelter in Santa Barbara, California that rescues dogs and gives them a warm and welcoming home until they find more permanent placement with a family. In many cases, this can be a very long time – well over a year for some dogs, including mine.
I’ve been a dog lover my whole life. I’ve never had Pit Bulls though. As you can imagine, Pit is the primary breed of dogs that end up in the shelter. While I was a bit leery of bringing a Pit home at first, Nigel (our first adopted dog) quickly proved that Pits get a bad rap in the press because he is such a sweet and caring and obedient creature. He simply has a very powerful instinct to protect those he cares for, and he and our other adoptee Phoenix for some reason feel a need to protect me from the postman or UPS delivery person when either show up at the door!
Having had both Nigel and Phoenix in our home for awhile now, I’ve come to realize that both are happy to be bossed around from time to time. While their barks may sound ferocious, they quiet down and listen very quickly as soon as my bark is loud enough to top theirs. In the absence of clear leadership and direction, they merely push the boundaries and step up to fill the void.
In a recent coaching conversation, I realized this “Pit Bull effect” as I’ll call it exists in organizations too. I know many leaders who can be leery around their employees, as if they could chew off their hands! I get that some employees do seem intimidating with their loud barks from time to time. The reality though is that these employees are simply filling that same leadership void.
While some leaders might feel it’s too direct or domineering to tell their employees what to do, there definitely are times when more directive rather than participatory leadership is warranted – and even required. In my experience with two Pit Bulls in my house, I’d offer that those employees will quickly fall in line – they may even say “Thank you” – when you do tell them what to do. It isn’t always a battle of the fittest in organizations. It’s about knowing what’s expected and then what to do. What we leaders might experience as “bossy”, our employees might experience as decisive, passionate behavior and maybe even inspiring that any leader can be proud of.