Years ago, when he was about a year and a half, a lovable yellow lab named Rigby joined our family. And ever since, he’s been my sole work-at-home colleague.
Until the pandemic hit, I don’t think I fully appreciated it what a blessing it was to have him around. Though he doesn’t talk, Rigby has taught me plenty about living a happier, more productive, balanced life. And as it turns out, our beloved dogs (aka “COVID companions”) have plenty of leadership lessons to impart, if we’re willing to invest in ourselves to embrace them.
Here are a few of “Rigby’s Rules” to be a better leader:
Start the day doing something you love
As a leader, you set the tone for your team. If you show up to that Zoom huddle cranky and out of sorts, your foul mood will spread; if you’re relaxed and happy, others will adopt a similar stance.
Begin your day with a favorite activity. This is different for everyone. It could be doing something creative, like writing or painting, or carving out some reflection time to be alone with your thoughts. Maybe you love early morning walks, or having breakfast with your family. If you’re Rigby, it might mean riding along in the car with mom on a latte run, ears flapping in the breeze. Whatever brings you joy. Do that.
Focus on one thing at a time
When we adopted Rigby, we were told that he was being trained to be a search and rescue dog because he possessed the rare quality of singular focus. These days, the only thing that he searches for is his Chuckit! ball. That pup could fetch for hours, and all the while maintain an intense focus on that ball.
As a leader working from home during the pandemic, you already know that distractions are everywhere. These days it’s so easy to shift your focus from the task at hand to almost anything else. Or worse, multi-task your way through your day and wonder why you’re not more productive.
When you’re listening to someone, give him or her your full attention. (Yes, put down your phone.) If you have an important task, eliminate everything else so you can focus, even if that means closing down email, social media, and open tabs. You’ll be far more efficient and do a better job at whatever you choose to focus on.
Build in breaks
No one can be intensely focused all of the time, not even Rigby. He knows the importance of building breaks in your day to recharge, refresh, and fill the tank for the next round of tasks.
You might not have the luxury of a nap, but you can get up from your chair, get a glass of water, or head outside for a few minutes. Taking a short break and letting go can do wonders. Sometimes, the best way to make progress is to take a break.
Be sweet but persistent
Rigby rarely barks. Instead, he leads with his pleasant demeanor and wagging tail, trying to achieve his goals (which probably include taking a trip to the park). He eventually wears me down, but I never feel like he’s a pest. Sweet but persistent wins every time.
Many of us have to chase down leads, clients, and colleagues daily. Remember that rather than strong-arming someone to comply, you can adopt a softer, gentler approach. Emotions are especially heightened right now, so it pays to be aware of the energy you’re giving off. Before you do outreach, ask yourself if you’d like to be on the receiving end of your communication. By adjusting your approach, you won’t feel so exasperated, and likely achieve your goals even faster because the other party won’t feel like you’ve been hounding them.
When you screw up, own it immediately
In those rare instances where Rigby has done something wrong, he fesses up before I’ve even had a chance to witness the crime. He’ll come to me, head low and tail slowly wagging with those sad eyes silently begging for forgiveness.
Nobody’s perfect, but how you handle a misstep says a lot about you and your leadership style. Are you letting your ego take the reins, or do you possess intellectual humility to admit when you’re wrong? Taking responsibility right away lets others know that you are accountable, proactive, and willing to be vulnerable to find a solution, rather than pointing fingers or pretending something never happened.
Protect your pack and remind them that they matter
In Rigby’s mind, the biggest threats to his pack (his family) are the squirrels that dare to venture into our yard. When he senses danger, he immediately springs into action and chases them away, protecting us from their evils.
Like most labs, Rigby wants to be near you, and when he is, he’ll take that opportunity to demonstrate his affection by either placing a paw on your knee or planting a slobbery smooch on you.
Likewise, everyone in your “pack” wants to know that someone has their back, and they’re appreciated and matter. Get into the habit of taking a few minutes each day to let the team members know that they are important to you by complimenting a job well done, saying thank you, and checking in with them during this unprecedented working environment. It needn’t be complicated; keep it simple and from the heart.
Now, more than ever, a little empathy and gratitude go a long way.