What Dogs Can Teach Us About Leadership

by Leila Murphy, Michelle Veasey of NHBSR, with contributions from Robin Eichert, PeopleSense Consulting


Effective leadership is key to supporting a culture where we feel empowered and inspired to meet our goals.  As a team of two, we recognize we have a unique opportunity to learn from each other as we continue to build a strong working relationship.

This summer, we were drawn to a workshop led by NHBSR member, Robin Eichert of PeopleSense Consulting.  Being inspired by the work we’ve done with Robin before, we knew that the workshop, Dogged Leadership: Unleash Your Vision, would give us great insights into our individual leadership styles in an unusual way.  It provided a unique combination of individualized leadership assessment and time for self-assessment reinforced by meaningful activities. 


Which dog represents your personality style? Let us know.












From Leila’s perspective:

I think that we all probably have a sense of our own leadership style, based on our work or volunteer experiences. I found the results intriguing. The assessment Robin uses identifies a person’s work style based on the popular DiSC four-quadrant personality theory


I was unequivocally identified as I (or Influence), followed closely by S (or Steadiness).  These two together have a relationship focus, which certainly resonates with where I see my strengths.  While no big surprises, the assessment provided me with a different lens to see myself through and gave me new insights, while reaffirming known qualities.

doggoggles_photo.pngAs a fun way to think about the DiSC styles, Robin incorporates dogs into the workshop format. This dog spoke to me right away when asked which reflected my personality style—with its eyes wide open for adventure and taking in the fresh air—both things that are important to me in my life.

I was reminded of how quickly our brains make assessments of people and dogs alike based on how they present themselves through the obvious things like what a person (or dog) looks like and facial expressions, but also by things that are more subjective like how they carry themselves and what energy they give off.

In a millisecond we get a snapshot of information, which helps to inform us how we might respond or choose to interact.



From Michelle’s perspective:

Like Leila, the assessment results fell in line with what I know about my leadership style.  I found myself nodding my head in agreement with the style tendencies and needs, but often what we know we should do to improve our interactions doesn’t translate to what we do. 


In this workshop, activities reinforced how our styles translate in our relationships.  We were instructed to lead Sawyer, a sweet therapy dog trained to work with people with disabilities, through a simple “course.”  Sawyer perceived not only our physical interaction, but also our tone and words.  It quickly demonstrated how we must consider how our body language impacts how others respond. 

Clearly one’s work is never done when it comes to forging meaningful relationships and by looking at other interactions, such as with our dogs, it can help us meet that challenge.

Tug, my four-legged friend, is a golden and I thought that impacted my selection when asked which dog best reflects my own style.  But then I started to think about whether we choose pets that connect with our style? Think of a golden you know – do they want to create a favorable impression, do they view people optimistically, do they try to motivate you to take action?  Now I bet you can guess my leadership style!

From Robin’s perspective:

As Michelle acknowledged, just because we know something doesn’t mean we’ll act on it. That’s why having dogs as a mirror to our behaviors is so powerful. If we make a request -- such as come, sit, or stay -- of any dog, whether an exuberant puppy or a seasoned therapy dog, they will react based on the whole picture. Are we clear in our message? Do our words and body language send the same signals? Perhaps our mild-mannered, wishy-washy words and ambiguous body language signal to the dog that what we’re asking them to do isn’t really important.

One of the greatest lessons my own dog, Grace, taught me is that the way I interact with her provides accurate insights into how I relate to others. My natural style is easy-going, but this relaxed, laissez-faire demeanor of mine wasn’t effective in working with her fearful nature. She needed firm direction. If she was going to behave better, it required me to behave differently for her.

And so it is in the workplace: employees have contrasting personalities that impact how they relate to each other. Next time you want to be top dog and it’s not working, think about what kind of canine characteristics you are exhibiting and what needs adjusting for a better outcome. You’ll be dog-gone happy you did. 

Robin offers custom “Dogged Leadership” workshops for small groups and company team-building programs. For more information, contact Robin at robin@PeopleSenseConsulting.com.