Owning a dog is a huge responsibility. The dogless population among us may think it’s all cuddles and bone-throwing, but there’s much more to it than that: dog owners must be disciplined, caring, and open to new challenges — just like a good CEO.
I adopted my dog Violet from the Fulton County shelter in July of 2013, and she has brought light into my life that I never thought possible. This sweet and funny lab pit mix has taught me so many lessons on life, love, and yes, even leadership.
As the CEO of my company Pacesetter, I deal with numerous challenges in creating and maintaining a healthy culture and a happy, efficient team. It may seem strange to say, but my relationship with Violet has helped shape me into a better CEO, teammate and person.
You don’t have to get a dog to learn these lessons, of course. But it certainly doesn’t hurt.
Here are just some of the lessons she has taught me, and why I find them especially applicable for individuals in executive positions.
The importance of routine
Owning a dog means establishing and keeping a routine. I take Violet for walks in the morning, midday, afternoon and before bed; in the morning she takes her medicine and then has breakfast. Days where no one is home to take care of her, she goes to daycare to socialize with other dogs. She needs this consistency because as a rescue dog with an unfortunate history, she has high anxiety and fear of separation. Consistency and routine decrease that substantially.
Leadership also requires creating an efficient routine and enforcing it, and Violet has taught me personally to build a schedule and create habits that reduce my own stress. I wake up early, workout, and have healthy breakfast to start the day out right. Then, I bring this sense of routine to work on a larger scale.
Routine is important for any team because it prevents confusion about duties, deadlines, and responsibilities, alleviating stress and disorder. In our office, we have several regularly scheduled meetings each week with very specific focuses. These happen the same time on the same day, allowing people to plan their travel and other priorities around them.
Another way to be consistent is to have well-defined processes and procedures. This creates consistency in the ways things are done as well as great clarity. Routine and organization ensure that information can easily be found when someone is out on vacation or business and we can seamlessly service customers without dropping the ball, no pun intended.
How a healthy team operates
My dog and I are a team because we provide value to each other; we work together and both of us are better off for the companionship. She always cheers me up when I am down, and when I am sick she acts as a catharsis. These little things have become ingrained into our relationship, making us both happy and functional. Mutually beneficial relationships are something CEOs should keep in mind when leading a team — your team is there for you when you are there for them and it’s rarely a one way street.
At Pacesetter, we collocate cross functionally to create the best solutions. We bounce ideas off one another and commonly ask for feedback. It takes people from every area of our company, working together, to service a customer. We celebrate our successes together, commonly recognize each other, and share ideas and successes at weekly huddles. We also have weekly cross-functional meetings to discuss business development and growth. These behaviors are baked into our culture, making us an effective team that leans on one another instead of operating in isolation.
Companies that collaborate and work together tend to be more effective, in my experience, so learning what makes your team tick can make all the difference when it comes to performance.
Responsibility at all hours
A good CEO is never off the clock, and having a dog isn’t a 9 to 5 gig either. I believe in work-life integration and flexibility, and living with Violet has only reinforced the idea that responsibility doesn’t disappear when you leave for work. You need to be able to multitask and prioritize what matters at all hours of the day.
Sure, there are times where I’m exhausted and don’t feel like taking Violet out. But I do it anyway, because taking care of her and her needs is my responsibility and I take it very seriously. My teammates are also my family and responsibility. Leaders should remember this responsibility with every decision they make.
At Pacesetter, we must honor our commitments and take care of them no matter what life throws at us. Because we have responsibility to each other, our customers and our suppliers, we don’t live in a 9 to 5 world. We do what we need to do take care of them, always remembering that if we don’t take care of ourselves first than we won’t be able to.
Movement, activity and wellness
When you own a dog, you realize how important it is to stay moving regularly. This is especially true for people, and in fact, activity stimulates thoughts and productivity. As a CEO it’s important to ensure your team is able to achieve the wellness they need to be productive and successful. Whether you create initiatives, team activities, or benefits, allowing space for movement around the daily grind can do wonders for all.
I frequently take Violet out for walks and chase her around the yard. Funnily enough, she won’t play fetch, but we have our own little activities that keep us healthy and moving together.
At Pacesetter, health and wellness are also a priority. We have an onsite gym at our corporate office and offer gym memberships to those out of state. We also offer various initiatives on and off focusing on health, wellness, and stress management. Good CEOs should make sure they offer the benefits associates need to be productive in and outside of work.
Pets bring out the best in us
At the end of the day, a team that is healthy, responsible, collaborative and organized is more likely than not to persevere and do great things. But if a CEO wants her team to embody these traits, she must first exemplify them herself.
I’m blessed that Violet came into my life, because when it comes down to it being a dog owner has lent me new perspective on leadership and the values that matter. She brings out the best in me.
With a little introspection, you may just find your pets have done the same for you. Or even more likely, that you’ve had it in you all along.