Top Dog: What Business Owners Can Learn from the Canine Community

Liam Berkeley

Being a dog owner is one of life’s more fulfilling and all around awesome experiences. For many, it’s a right of passage – a significant increase in responsibility from Jimmy the goldfish and a toe dip into the waters of parenthood. There’s little more rewarding than taking care of something that depends on you for survival, loves you unconditionally, and doesn’t talk back to you upon reaching its teen years.

As a new business owner and hardcore dog lover, I’ve learned many lessons from nurturing K-9 companions that I’ve been able to apply to owning and growing a business. After all, your business is just as dependent on you as your pooch. Here’s a look at a few of the parallels I’ve scooped up along the way:

BE A PACK LEADER

“The dog is a reflection of your energy, of your behavior. You have to ask, 'What am I doing?' That's the right question to ask.” – Cesar Milan

In the dog world, every pack has a leader. In wolf society, this individual is called the "alpha." The pack leader / alpha is the member who makes the decisions, and is responsible for setting the tone for the rest of the pack. As a business owner, this is you.

There’s nothing more directly tied to a company’s success than its leader. The leader, whether they are the company founder or not, is a visionary, steward and luminary, all wrapped up in one. Every team needs someone at the top who can drive the group towards a shared vision. Similarly, customers and users want someone at the helm who shares their beliefs and values and has their best interests in mind. If they don’t recognize you as the pack leader, then you won’t be for long.

Here are three traits that every pack leader must possess:

Decisiveness

As the head of a startup or small business, there are dozens of decisions that need to be made on a daily basis. A successful startup leader knows how to assess a situation and come to a decision that they feel comfortable with without wasting an unnecessary amount of time. There’s no guarantee that they will make the right decision 10 out of 10 times, but their ability to live with their mistakes makes them more confident decision makers and ensures that their company won’t be immobilized by indecisiveness.

Self-Awareness

No matter what spot we hold in an organization, at the end of the day, we’re all humans. Good leaders know their weaknesses as well as they recognize their strengths. A great leader is confident enough to identify areas of growth and identifies them as opportunities instead of attempting to hide them. This type of acute self-awareness allows you to form a team of people who complement your strengths and make up for your weaknesses.

Positivity

One of the most underrated traits of a good leader is positivity. Scratch that… positivity is one of the most underrated and important traits of any true entrepreneur. Running a business is a rocky road that must be traveled with an unwavering outlook of positivity. Once your mindset starts to skew towards negativity, the fall can be steep and swift. A good leader exudes positivity that is absorbed and reflected by her/his team. Team members, as do dogs, pick up on emotions easily.

COMMUNICATION IS KEY

One of the most challenging things about owning a dog is learning the correct way to communicate with them. No matter how much you try to persuade them with baby talk or reprimand them by yelling, dogs, like people, do not listen to you unless you speak their language.

For business owners and startup founders, communication plays a huge role in your company’s ultimate success. You can be the best at what you do, but if you’re not communicating effectively with your audience you are essentially shooting yourself in the foot. Good communicators have the ability to:

Listen First

Most of us are terrible listeners. We want others to hear what we have to say, but aren’t as concerned with hearing the other side. Instead, you may want to try this: focus on the person speaking, and verbally play back a summary of what was said before proceeding to build on the conversation with additional points.

Interpret Non-Verbal Cues

Just as interpreting cues from dogs is key to successfully communicating with them, interpreting non-verbal cues in the workplace is equally important. A study from UCLA suggested that as much as 55 %of the meaning in face-to-face interactions is conveyed non-verbally. Having the ability to recognize and then analyze things like posture and facial expressions are just as important as hearing what’s being spoken.

Be Concise

Whether it’s statistics on how little time people spend focused on a single issue (according to one source, eight seconds) or simply the need to get more done in less time, concise communication wins out. Even the technological context supports this. As screens get smaller, we have to say more in fewer words.

Develop the ability to get to the point in a sharp and focused manner and communicate that across mediums. Finding ways to cut the fat off your verbal and written communications can increase their effectiveness measurably.

LOYALTY BREEDS LONGEVITY

Perhaps nothing is more celebrated and unique to the K-9 species then their unwavering loyalty. Through thick and thin, you can always count on your furry friend to be by your side.

As the leader of a startup, that type of loyalty among team members and customers is an incredible luxury, but one that is much harder to find -- especially today. According to the Future Workplace

“Multiple Generations @ Work” survey, 91% of millennial surveyed expect to stay in a job for less than three years. That’s a lot of job-hopping.

Many companies, big and small, make an attempt to lure and keep employees with large salaries, flashy perks, and alluring stock options. While those things certainly help, the intangibles are just as important.

Be Transparent

In order for your employees and customers to feel a sense of loyalty towards you they must trust you first. Do you own up to your mistakes and communicate key developments as they arise? If not, you’re about as likely to breed loyalty as you are to teach an old dog a new trick.

Be Consistent

When things are constantly changing people don’t know what to expect. This level of uncertainty is bad in the workplace and for your customers too. By setting consistent expectations, procedures, lines of communication, etc. you increase employee understanding and their level of comfort.

As dogged small business owners and startup founders, we are always looking to get better. We spend hours scouring virtual bookshelves for the latest enlightening texts, flying to far-flung places for the best shows and conferences, and constantly searching for a new edge. Next time you are looking for that new tool to add to your toolkit, perhaps you should look no further than the end of the leash.

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