What Makes a Good Leader?

In our recent YouTube video “A Dog Trainer’s Tribute to Martin Luther King Jr”, I talk about two traits necessary to be a great leader. First, you need a dream or vision, and second, you need the ability to communicate that dream to others. Simply having a dream and the ability to communicate does not automatically make someone a great leader. A leader can not be a leader without followers.

Let’s take a look at how an individual chooses who to follow. Essentially there are two motivating factors, or pressures, in decision making. I often refer to these motivating forces or pressures as positive pressure and negative pressure. Positive pressure is being motivated by a desire to gain something. Negative pressure is being motivated by a desire to avoid something. Any decisions made due to hopes or dreams fall into the positive pressure category and any decisions made due to fear fall into the negative pressure category.

We all use these two pressures whenever we make a decision. In fact, as near as I can tell, these pressures precede all action. I find this to be true with humans and animals. Nelson Mandela once said, “May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.” A quick search online for books on the power of positive thinking reveals a seemingly endless list of books written on the subject. The power of living in a positive mindset has been well documented. At T’s Doghouse we refer to this as being in a “gain mindset” or “living for the gain.” We have found that we are much happier when we live and train in this mindset. We have also found that our animals are much happier and learn faster when they too are in a “gain mindset.”

Negative pressure is also a very motivating power. My search online for books on the power of fear also produced a seemingly endless list of books on the subject. It’s easy to see the power of fear all around us; individuals making choices in an effort to avoid something. At T’s Doghouse, we refer to this as an “avoidance mindset.”

With 2020 being an election year here in the USA, I had the opportunity to watch and take part in the selection of leaders for this nation. Through this process I witnessed both positive and negative pressure at work.

Some people followed their candidates because of what they hoped the candidate would do for the country. These individuals seemed to have a vision or dream of their own, and they chose the candidate that they believed would help these dreams for the country come true. These individuals were acting from a “gain mindset.” It was also evident that some people had very strong fears of what might happen to the country if a certain candidate was elected. These individuals made their decision with an “avoidance mindset.”

During the campaign process we also saw these two pressures at play. Each candidate had the opportunity to share their dream or vision with the people. These efforts were spent in an effort to gather followers that had a similar dream or vision.

We also saw the candidates spend time and money pointing out fears and concerns about the other candidate. These efforts were aimed at gathering followers through creating fear toward the other candidate.

In the end, each voter made a decision and this decision was according to their hopes or their fears.

As we look at the world of animal training we see the same elements at play. Our animals are constantly making decisions and these decisions are based on an effort to either “gain” something or in an effort to “avoid” something.

As leaders to our dogs I feel it is very important to recognize these two motivational pressures. As we come to recognize why our dogs are making their decisions we will be able to help direct our dogs. As we guide our dogs to gaining their desires (food, safety, affection, fun and adventure) they will learn to look to us and follow our leadership. Through our direction they will adopt behaviors that they recognize will bring about their desires. We will also be able to help our dogs understand those things which they should avoid.

Although both pressures are always at play, we focus our training courses on helping dogs live in a gain mindset. We have found that this keeps our dogs happier and it helps them be more obedient because they are following out of a desire to gain what they want. Having a dog in a gain mindset also makes it so that when a negative correction is needed the correction can have a profound effect, even though it can be a very small correction. In essence, as we guide our dogs to their dreams, they will turn to us for leadership so their choices may reflect their dreams, not their fears.

Make dreams come true, my friends!