An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.


Leader of the pack

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Our family dog Gus, a chocolate lab, is definitely the favorite member of our pack. He possesses many traits of a great leader. The family for us is the simplest and most perfect form of government, and our first experience in a group. For Gus, the pack was his ancestors' solution to join together to accomplish goals and satisfy needs. For thousands of years, family life has been one of the sustaining values of civilization. Anthropologist Margaret Mead observed that the family is the toughest institution humans have, and it is one of our core small groups. 

In exploring Gus I see a charismatic leader fully confident in himself and his role, and who is a picture of positive energy as he approaches every new relationship and challenge with his tail wagging. He has an incredible level of energy but understands the importance of taking a nap. 

Anyone who has taken a dog for a walk knows the dog is completely in that moment. Dogs enjoy the moment, take in all the smells, all the sights, and spend time with the pack. In addition to understanding the importance of small things and enjoying the moment.     

Gus is a natural team player. For Gus, everything is about the pack. He is able to develop a positive interdependence by promoting the pack to achieve goals together, and does this by relying on his skillful use of social competence and positive relationship building techniques. 

He endears himself to the pack through a series of ingratiating behaviors. He always greets everyone as if they have been gone forever, and he is always happy to see them. It seems he has learned the secret to success in life summed up in a quote from Army Major General John H. Stanford, "Whenever anyone asks me how to be a leader I tell them I have the secret to success in life. The secret to success is to stay in love. Staying in love gives you the fire to really ignite other people, to see inside other people, to have a greater desire to get things done than other people. A person who is not in love doesn't really feel the kind of excitement that helps them to get ahead and lead others and to achieve. I don't know any other fire, any other thing in life that is more exhilarating and is more positive feeling than love is."

Another strength Gus possesses is great communication skills. By listening carefully and respectfully to members of his pack he is a master at picking up not only what is said but how things are said. And while he is limited to only barking, whimpering, and whining to communicate, he possesses a great ability to not only hear, but to listen. Chief Hughes, my friend and author of Leadership...Put a CAP on it! Become a Better Leader by Improving Your Communication, Attitude, and Performance, believes the first principle of leadership is communication. He challenges all leaders to "communicate with your ears." A simple and effective reminder that many times we need to listen...really listen to what our team is saying. And even though leaders typically spend more time talking than listening, Gus's strength is that he is a great listener. He is perceptive to the emotional climate of the group. I have often benefited from Gus's attitude and awareness of the pack: Getting home after a stressful day to be greeted by Gus and coached into playing by Gus fetching a tennis ball as a signal it is time to play. His contagious attitude has a positive effect on those in his pack. 

Gus is happiest when he has a job to do! Just the sight of me putting on my running shoes usually sends Gus into a frenzy of excitement in preparation for the run. As we start the run, I let him off the leash, and he takes off firmly establishing himself as the leader of the pack. But not wanting to leave anyone behind, he quickly circles back and encourages everyone to pick up the pace. He demonstrates a strong work ethic and concern about his pack and wants them all to get to the finish line together. And just as Gus looks out for us, we know to watch carefully for signs of heat exhaustion because he is so focused on his work that he could easily push himself too hard. I have seen Gus concentrate so completely on the task at hand that he has worn out the pads on his paws and won't even limp until the fun was over. 

Dog's have been a part of humans' small groups for centuries. It is a relationship that started with the positive interdependence of man and animal. By choosing to hunt and live together, both groups were strengthened. Our family life has been greatly improved by having Gus on the team. And by studying Gus as a member of our team, I am reminded to be more like Gus and to hopefully someday be as good a leader as he already views me to be.