As a child, I never had a pet larger than a goldfish. My wife, on the other hand, grew up with dogs and is crazy about them. Since my wife is also my business partner, it didn’t take long for the pitter-patter of four paws to take over our office as well as our home.
Having a dog in the workplace is hardly a novelty. One in five companies across the U.S. now allows dogs, from mom-and-pop shops to large corporations. Surveys show that a significant percentage of Americans believe that having a pet in the workplace increases creativity, reduces stress, decreases absenteeism and fosters better relationships among colleagues.
Seventy-seven percent of dog-loving CEOs in a USA TODAY survey said they judged the character of others based on how they treat dogs, how dogs respond to them, and even what they name their dogs.
Not surprisingly, when we named our boxer dog Bella as the Director of Goodwill at our word of mouth marketing agency five years ago, we got positive feedback from the business owners and executives that we serve.
Sure, there are inconveniences to having Bella in the office. Fur in the file cabinets. Squeaky toys scattered across the floor. But what has surprised me the most is that our dog has taught me how to be a better business leader. In fact, Bella (with a little assistance from me and my wife Ellen Galvin) wrote a book, Secrets of a Working Dog: Unleash Your Potential and Create Success, to teach people how to achieve greater levels of success in work and life by adopting the techniques that come naturally to dogs of all shapes, sizes and pedigrees.
- Keep your eyes on the ball—literally. Bella lives for her little red rubber ball. She’d be happy to stalk and retrieve it all day long if it didn’t drive her officemate (i.e., me) to the brink of insanity. The point is that dogs know how to give things their full attention, energy and talent. They don’t buy into the myth of multitasking. Bella taught me that it’s better to enjoy the satisfaction of a job well done than to juggle many things at once and not do any of them well.
- Shake off setbacks like a dog shakes off water. Dogs persist in the face of adversity because the word “no” doesn’t hurt their feelings, crush their self-confidence or prevent them from trying again. If anything, rejection is just one small step on the path to success. In Bella’s mind, “no table scraps!” doesn’t mean “never”—it just means “not yet.” Dogs take risks, make mistakes and take off running again without stopping every few feet to look over their shoulders.
- Build your pack (i.e., your network of colleagues, coaches, mentors and friends) in the real world, not just in a virtual one. Thanks to Bella, I have no choice but to exchange the digital leash for a dog leash and step outside a few times a day. As a result, I’ve made valuable personal and professional connections. While I don’t have anything against technology (without it, I wouldn’t be in business), Bella reminds me that face-to-face socializing is what creates long-lasting, meaningful relationships.
Clearly, our four-legged friends have much to teach us—particularly when the stress and routine of daily life threaten to overwhelm us. Sometimes, all it takes is a dog to shake things up and help us create a new way of living and working.
How has your dog (or cat, ferret, goldfish, etc.) taught you to be a better business leader?