“I Didn’t Teach the Dog Anything”

The Dog is a Handful

I have a Jack Russell Terrier named Kirby.  Kirby has some–how should I put it–less than desirable behavioral traits.  He’s a great dog most of the time.  Other times, he can be a handful.  For example, no one is permitted to leave the house–EVER!  Not even the cable guy.  Kirby doesn’t like strangers coming in, which is kind of understandable, but he can’t stand it when someone leaves.  He barks and spins pretty much until he’s forgotten that there was a visitor.  If I try to leave the house, he’ll nip at my pant leg, trying to hold me back.  He also freaks out anytime the freezer is opened.  No problem with the refrigerator (thankfully), but the freezer is a no-go.  It’s so bad that my wife and I have to be strategic about meal planning.  I’ll take the dog for a walk so Ania, my wife, can prepare a meal.

We Just Want a Quiet House

I really wanted to correct his behavior, so Ania and I could have a quiet and peaceful home.

The TV show “The Dog Whisperer” caught my attention as I was channel surfing one day.  After one episode of Cesar Millan making terrible dogs lovable, I became intrigued.  I watched several more episodes over time to learn what I could about improving Kirby’s behavior.  There are some basics he mentions over and over.  Dogs need exercise, discipline, and affection in that order.  The human must take on the role of pack leader (the alpha dog).  Dogs need to have a leader.  If they don’t find one that is doing the job well, they’ll take on the responsibility themselves.

I watched each episode with more and more deliberate study and learned what Millan was doing to correct a dog’s bad behavior wasn’t about the dog.

Who’s the Alpha?

There are similar experiences in lean journeys.  I’ve heard many comments about not getting buy-in, encountering resistance, or going back to the old ways of doing thing.  While these examples aren’t quite the same as barking at a freezer, they are behavior problems that need to be addressed.

There is very much a cause and effect issue related to organizational behavior issues.  If one or two people out of a hundred are resisting, there’s probably an individual performance problem.  If only one or two out of a hundred are supporting a lean transformation, there’s probable another aspect to consider.

It’s Not About the Dog

What I came to understand about Millan’s work was something he eventually said at the end of one of his episodes after transforming a mean and aggressive dog into a lovable companion: “I didn’t teach the dog anything.”  Rather, he taught the dog owner how to be a pack leader.  The dog’s behavior was merely the result of the owner’s leadership.  Once the owner learned to exercise and properly discipline the dog, to never back down, alway be the first through a doorway and always have the dog follow, the dog learned to calmly follow it’s leader.

It seems Kirby’s behavior issues are really about me.  They’re the result of my leadership “opportunities for improvement.”  Having a better dog means being a better alpha and relentlessly adhering to basic principles in order to attend to Kirby’s needs.

Lean, too,  is very much about leadership.  Yes, there are some great tools, but principled leadership is what drives organizational behavior and generates results.



  1. Jon

    June 23, 2017 - 1:33 pm

    Really interesting parallels to leadership here. The Jack Russell loves to be kept busy, exercising, being put to work. If they aren’t they can act up. Your realization that it’s the dog owner who needs to change, not so much the dog, is not unlike a leader realizing that they need to change themselves, not the workers. People show up wanting to work, want to be given time, resources, clear direction, support to do a good job. When leaders don’t provide this, workers disengage. Leaders who realize “The organization’s performance issues are really about me,” are the ones who have a chance at turning it around.

  2. Kelly

    June 23, 2017 - 3:33 pm

    Great lesson Steve! Your articles always give me reflection and for me, this is the best one yet because the example is so relatable. Thinking literally of my own house situation, I did wonder how it would work on cats. 😉

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