I regularly go walking in the hills with a small pack of dogs. At the moment I am in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in southern Spain looking after a Cortijo and three dogs. This morning I was out for a long walk with them thinking about my life, as I often do!
It occurred to me that what was happening was a great metaphor for being a man and being a leader. The way ‘my pack of dogs’ behaved was fascinating, to say the least.
Dogs are pack animals, they love running together and quickly set up a hierarchy according to their personalities and territories. Sissy is a small female terrier who grew up in New York. She was used to being on her own and being made a fuss of. She was always ‘top dog’.
Harvey is a hairy male mongrel who grew up here in the mountains but has always been an ‘intruder’ into Sissy’s territory. He is a ‘herder’ and likes to walk at the back of the pack. Toby is a young male puppy who has no idea about anything other than bouncing around attacking anything that moves. He is yet to understand his place, although the growling from the other two is helping him to learn quickly.
Then, of course, there is me. As far as the dogs are concerned I am part of the pack as well. We walk together with no leads and they herd around me. Although Sissy is notionally ‘top dog’ she knows that really I am. I feed them and I decide when to go for a walk and where to go. I don’t tell them anything or make them do anything, they choose.
In the morning when they see I am ready to go for a walk, that is putting my shoes on, they are all over me in excitement. They can go on their own, and sometimes do, but to have us all together, including me, that they love.
They run around, chase each other, hunt for food, smell the territorial marks and generally cause chaos. I just walk. I know where I am going and how long I am going to be. They don’t ask and are not interested, they just take my lead. I assert my position as ‘top dog’ by knowing what I want, being confident in it and just going for it. They run around with me always as their centre of gravity. They may disappear for a while, but they always come back to run with me.
That, for me, is what leadership is about. It’s knowing what you want and going for it. Those around you stay focused around you because they chose to, they trust your certainty and give you your leadership. You can never make people follow you. People often try this with dogs and they have chain them up or take them on a lead to pretend they are in charge.
Dogs choose their leader. They do it by recognising the energy and the strength of the ‘top dog’. Yes, they fight amongst themselves for it, but usually it’s just a display of confidence, there is no compulsion.
This is also relevant to being a man, not the fighting bit but the display of confidence bit. Families succeed when the man is certain and understands his family’s needs, They look to him as their rock, their certainty and love him. This is not to belittle the important role of the woman. She is often the herder, the one who cares and loves.
Nowadays there are so many broken families because the men don’’t have this certainty. They have lost their confidence and don’t know where they are going. The families cease to trust them and fall apart. The woman is left, often fulfilling both roles, while the man just lets his responsibility go.
So thank you to Sissy, Harvey and Toby for helping me to understand leadership and men.
Then there is Boris, but he’s a cat and just different…