Monks, Dogs and Leadership

In spite of the many channels of television programming that Cablevision offers, there are times at which I’ve already seen every Law and Order (and their spin-offs), can’t convince anyone in my house that The Big Lebowski is worth seeing for the 300th time, am bored with American Idol, and find A Shot At Love With Tila Tequila to be just, well, annoying. At those times, I have discovered Animal Planet. A favorite is Divine Canine, a show that features the Monks of New Skete.

For the uninitiated, the Monks of New Skete are THE go-to guys when it comes to living with a dog ( Their books, tapes and television program boil down to one big idea: To raise and train a dog means exerting leadership.
Leadership is also where the action is when we talk about education (including Jewish education). It is through leadership that we develop our profession and unite to build communities of Jewish living and learning.

So, since leadership is in fact, the key to raising dogs and to improving education, we should be able to transfer our learning from one to the other. To test this out, I’ve been working with Dixie, a native of West Virginia, whose ancestors appear to have been of Shih-tzu and Terrier backgrounds. Since she was rescued from a shelter and brought to our Long Island home, we’ve used some of what we know about leadership to see what works and what we can apply from our learning.

And so, here is my list of Educational Leadership Lessons Learned from Working with Dixie:

The true test of leadership is not what someone does when they’re on a short leash, but how they function when they are off leash.

  • Work hard, play hard.
  • Whether learning or working, food is important. It’s a great motivator, a welcome reward, and provides an opportunity to bond.
  • Go for the premium food and for decent accomodations. As a leader, it’s important to let others know that they’re valued.
  • Part of leadership is appreciating that others have skills that you don’t. I can’t make it to the front door in 2.8 seconds to attack the mailman [not that I’d want to attack the mailman!]. My job is to know that those skills exist in my pack and to maximize how those abilities are shared and utilized.
  • Opportunities (as well as threats) are often perceived more quickly by those who are closest to the ground than by those who are higher in the pecking order. E.g., I sure can’t spot a tasty looking squirrel from 100 yards away!
  • There will be those “I-Thou” moments ( at which you, as leader, and others (canine or human) are truly in synch and aiming towards a common goal or vision. Those are the times at which real progress and work get done.
  • As a leader, you will be required to pick up poop. Doing so doesn’t make you a special person; it’s part of the responsibilities that leaders accept. So, get over yourself!
  • Leaders may have graduate education (or not), but they need to learn from what all others bring to the table (or to the dog bowl, as the case may be). Dixie continues to teach me the simple joys of sitting and watching the world.
  • Happy Leadership!

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