Susan and I have gotten hooked on watching “Dog Whisperer” with Cesar Millan on the National Geographic channel. If you’re not familiar with the show, Cesar goes into homes with, we think, troubled dogs. But it usually ends up that the owners are the ones who need help, especially with how to be leaders.

So it occurred to me that, even though Cesar teaches about leading dogs, his lessons are useful in the worlds of business and church. Here is what I have gleaned from just the few episodes I’ve watched so far:

1. Look first to yourself. The only thing we can really change in a system is our reaction to stimuli. How do you or I contribute to the “presenting problem,” as they say? How is our energy, our approach, our attempt to attend to our needs/agendas negatively influencing outcomes?

2. Be calm and assertive. In family systems theory, this way of acting is known as maintaining a “non-anxious presence,” though these days theorists speak of the “less-anxious presence,” realizing that no one is totally free of anxiety. When everyone else is falling apart in a crisis, the leader of this sort sees and thinks clearly. In Cesar’s terms, he or she gives off a “positive energy.” Dogs, intuitive as they are (and also with their sensitive noses) can tell if their owners are on edge, and they exploit that. Some folks are intuitive as well and will also exploit the leader’s lack of confidence. So be calm and at least act like you know what you’re doing!

3. Respect the needs of those you lead. Cesar reminds the owners that dogs need to be dogs. They aren’t people (especially not babies/children) no matter how much we may try to make them such. In the same way, those we seek to lead have particular needs that they are trying to have met, from the most basic ones of food and shelter to respect, intimacy, and accomplishment. How does our leadership create conditions and support to enable those in our charge to prosper and succeed?

4. Teach what you learn. Cesar’s whole approach is teaching dog owners the techniques they need to lead their dogs. He even sat down with a group of little kids the other night and taught them how to handle a rambunctious standard poodle. When we know helpful approaches and techniques, we ought to share them as well, with all sorts of constituencies. Indeed, Jesus commands us to teach everything he has commanded us. Our job as leaders, in the church at least, is not to do everything ourselves, but to make disciples, who make disciples, and on and on.

Thanks, Cesar!

© 2010 Tom Cheatham