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Being a Pack Leader

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I’ve been reading Cesar’s Way by Cesar Milan of Dog Whisperer fame and am learning a lot about leadership.  Dogs are very tuned in to energy and communicate with each other through it. He describes pack members as having calm and submissive energy while pack leaders are calm and assertive. Submissive in this context means the willingness to follow and be led rather than the human associations we have with the word that are undesirable such as: passive, subservient, meek, acquiescent, docile, etc. Pack Leader – calm and assertive; pack member – calm and submissive. Not a bad business culture model. Let’s learn what we can from man’s best friend and see what we can apply to our work and home life (think kids here).

First, the Pack Leader (PL) must be the PL 100% of the time. As soon as there is a gap in leadership, one of the pack will rise up to fill it. If the PL doesn’t quickly reestablish his leadership with a light warning “bite,” that communicates to the pack and the challenging follower that he is still in the leadership position, he is opening the door to more challenges to his leadership from the pack. The pack needs and is looking for its leader to be the leader 100% of the time. The PL’s bite is not vicious or attacking, which expresses unstable, hostile energy undermining the PL’s leadership with the pack even further. It is calm and assertive and simply asserts his leadership, restores order, and affirms the cooperative followership and values of the pack.

I’ve come to watch people with their dogs and observe how many of them are being yanked around the block by them. The human hasn’t stepped into the role of leader so the dog has. When the human is the PL, the dog walks along side or behind the human and watches him/her to see where the pack is headed. Interestingly, Cesar says that the tone of the walk is set before you leave the house. Whoever walks out of the door first is the PL.

An application: My daughter is doing her student teaching at a grade school with a challenging group of kids and we were discussing Cesar’s ideas relative to her position as the PL with the kids. I asked her how the kids enter the classroom at the beginning of the day. She replied they run in frantically with hyperactive energy and it of course takes a chunk of time to settle them down before the day’s work can begin. She then asked if she should make them wait outside the room and as soon as one of them was focused and calm that child would be allowed to enter. I asked her how she got so smart. She tried it the next day and it had an instant affect on the way the kids went to their desks and began their day. Of course, that’s not all it takes – she is continuing to find and establish her PL position with each challenge that comes up but she is assuming the position with the children and is getting great results.

Finally, old dogs can learn new tricks. Consider that your consistent and/or inconsistent leadership has gone along way to establish the values and expectations of your pack. Strive to establish your calm assertive energy as the PL 100% of the time. I’ve worked with leaders who found dramatic changes with their most aggressive, argumentative employees when they addressed their misbehavior calmly, with clear expectations and consequences when needed. The state of the pack mirrors the state of its leader.

Remember, as people, but especially as leaders, we are sending messages all of the time – whether or not we are using words. Our members tune into our body language, tone of voice, facial expressions, in effect our energy – which sends messages about our state of mind and feelings constantly. It has been determined that 93% of communication is conveyed non-verbally.

We are astute observers of behavior. So is the point of this Tip to become hyper-alert to managing the subtle nuances of our non-verbals? Not possible – there are too many that get sent out continuously for us to ever hope of controlling them. Rather, the point is that we can’t fake energy – who we are always shows up regardless of our words. Calm and assertive leadership energy is only possible when you own the authority of your position, know that you will use it intentionally and steadily, and carry the best interests of the pack at heart, always. Become the Pack Leader.

Exercise A: 1) Identify members of your “pack” who are challenging you with their behavior or words. 2) Now identify what patterns in your behavior might be attracting this challenge: what authority or respect aren’t you claiming as yours in your leadership position? 3) Are you failing to provide a warning “bite” by letting your pack member know what your expectations are relative to this behavior and what is not acceptable? This should not come out of anger (unstable energy) but from the quiet authority of one who knows they have it and will use it intentionally if needed.

Exercise B: 1) Examine the quality and efficiency of your meetings. Are members on time, focused, contributing, staying on topic? 2) Are expectations for what it means to be a good team member known and owned by your team members? 3) Are you the PL 100% of the time? Do you wait for the late or rehash what they missed for them when they come in late? Is inappropriate behavior addressed? Are you leading the meeting or getting yanked around during it? It might be time for a warning “bite” with a reminder of expectations and addressing individual misbehaviors privately when needed.

Be The Pack Leader

Cesar Milan the Dog Whisperer, was discussing the correct way to meet a dog. Correct here means balancing how dog culture works while establishing an energetic position as a pack leader. Let’s review this and apply it to leadership.

On one of his shows, a dog became very fearful/agitated any time it was taken to the vet. Cesar was going to address this by going to the vet with the dog and its owner. When they arrived, the Vet greeted the dog by getting down on her knees and calling the dog in an excited, enthusiastic, and solicitous manner. The dog was already agitated and this made things worse.

Cesar asked her if he could give her some feedback, which she accepted. He told her that her energy was excited rather than calm and stable and was only making an already excited/anxious dog more so. Further, by getting down on her knees and calling the dog to her she was placing herself in a subordinate position to a dog who was clearly not in a calm assertive posture, needing calm, assertive leadership and now facing the additional stress of an agitated, unstable human. She became calm and more dominant and the dog calmed a little allowing Cesar to begin the process of reprogramming the dog’s reaction at the Vet’s.

A young supervisor I was coaching let’s call him Bert, was promoted to a management position and inherited a very senior department head, let’s call him Ernie, who was known for his aggressive, oppositional reactions to directions or service requirements he didn’t like. The new manager came in very low key wanting to establish himself as a nice guy who was willing to listen and support his people. This worked great with the more “submissive” employees but it surrendered the Pack Leader position to Ernie who was very glad to keep it.

Of course, every interaction reinforced this dynamic. Bert would make a request and Ernie would tell him why it wasn’t a good idea, not possible, bad for the department and the company. Bert would try to come back with a rationale to convince Ernie but it of course, never did. Bert worked hard to maintain his nice guy position with patience and persistence and with most of his workers, that was helpful and he gained credibility. It also worked with Ernie who liked Bert but who wouldn’t accept direction from him, at least not without an argument.

The company decided to track the services of Bert’s department with a complex software program and when Bert delivered the news Ernie’s response was of course to explain why it was a bad idea and there was no way he was going to screw up his department with a new software program. They were struggling enough to get their product out into the hands of other internal customers without having to muck things up further by learning a new software program that probably wasn’t going to do what it was supposed to for the company.

When Bert described the situation to me I told him Ernie was the department Pack Leader and described the analogy I had been analyzing from Cesar. There was no way Ernie would accept direction from Bert cooperatively because the department needed a strong leader who would protect its people and services – at least as Ernie saw it. By backing off and not identifying the coming change as a non-negotiable, Bert was again surrendering the Pack Leader position to Ernie who held the power while Bert was held accountable to departmental expectations.

We built and rehearsed a script that laid out the software implementation as a non-negotiable from Bert (not the company which would have side stepped claiming the Pack Leader position) that was coming in 3 months. Ernie had to decide how difficult or easy he was going to make the implementation. The consequences of slowing things down and negatively affecting the department could now be presented as coming from Ernie if he blocked the implementation. He really did care about the department and didn’t want to hurt it. With Bert’s clear message, and the statement of responsibilities and accountabilities he would hold him to, Ernie accepted Bert’s leadership because he stepped in to his authority with him for the first time. It can’t be the last.

In a pack, any time the leader shows weakness another dog will challenge him – somebody has to lead and if he won’t, another dog will. A leader has to be a leader 100% of the time. With calm assertive energy, the pack responds to the leader with calm submissive energy and fights and other problematic behaviors are minimized. Bert finally made a good start at this, now he has to consistently express his leadership. It was a courageous step from a young manager with an older more experienced department leader. When he took it, his courage was rewarded with a sense of his appropriate power and a feeling of the good he could now do for his people, including Ernie.



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