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Leadership Lessons Learned from a Faithful Canine Confidante

By Jamey Lutz —

Have you ever had a friend who seemed to operate on the same wavelength as you? Someone you would say truly “gets you”? During my formative years, I was fortunate to have this type of relationship in my life. The memories of our bond will remain forever etched in my mind and the leadership lessons I learned have served me well.

Champ was my canine companion, my soulmate, my BFF. A unique mix of St. Bernard and German Shepherd, he was a wonderful blend of speed, power and gentle spirit. I cried for three days when he passed away during my teen years, and I’m still emotional today as I write this article.

Champ exemplified living life to the max with unbridled passion, unlimited energy, unmitigated devotion and unrivaled courage. He approached each day as if it were his last. No fear, and no regrets.

So, what strategic business principles and leadership lessons can we, as leaders and coaches of our organizations, learn from Champ’s life? Much more than you might think.

What Would Champ Do?

Put Others Before Self

In his timeless book, “How to Win Friends and Influence People”, Dale Carnegie had this to say regarding the general disposition of man’s best friend:

“Did you ever stop to think that a dog is the only animal that doesn’t have to work for a living? A hen has to lay eggs, a cow has to give milk, and a canary has to sing. But a dog makes his living by giving you nothing but love.”

Champ was the ultimate warrior and companion. Weighing in at over 100 pounds with powerful jaws that could  – and did, on occasion – snuff the life from unsuspecting neighborhood critters, Champ was a gentle beast with me and our family. Some of my fondest memories are of us wrestling in the front yard, and playing superheroes in the woods behind the house.

But woe to anyone or anything that was a perceived threat to our well-being. For example, Champ was convinced that Prince, the Collie who lived two doors down, was personally responsible whenever a storm occurred. Immediately following the first audible peal of thunder, Champ would track down Prince for seemingly placing us in harm’s way and punish him severely. As you can imagine, Prince never looked forward to those house calls.

What would you do if a disaster strikes your team? Would your teammates believe you’ll be there to support and defend them when a storm hits? Do they trust that you’ll put their needs above your own when their certainty is threatened?

What would you do if a disaster strikes your team?

Lead a Life of Joy and Enthusiasm

No one would have ever accused Champ of playing it safe. He did not need to be nudged outside his comfort zone. If anything, we struggled at times to reign him in.

Champ had an absolute passion for chasing cars. He found great pleasure in meticulously zig-zagging in front of every vehicle entering and exiting our neighborhood cul-de-sac. The more frustrated the driver, the more vigorously Champ pursued them.

To this day, I can distinctly hear his unrelenting bark interspersed with blaring car horns and  angry adult language. Undeterred, Champ would joyfully bite their car tires, leading to more than one vehicular “puncture wound” over the years!

How about you? Would your team say you demonstrate great zeal in your leadership role while inspiring them to react the same way? Are they more enthusiastic now than they were six months ago as a result of your leadership?

Encourage a “Think Outside the Box” Mentality

Champ never displayed much of an affinity for “painting” within the proverbial lines. He was a trailblazer in every sense of the word. He didn’t like to be leashed and was known to uproot small trees when we failed to secure him to a more permanent fixture.

Unsatisfied with sleeping in his custom-made, supersized doghouse, Champ burrowed out a massive nest in an eight-foot stand of razor-sharp pampas grass located next to our driveway. When least expected, Champ would brazenly leap out of the plant in full ninja attack mode, absolutely terrifying everyone in his path!

In your leadership role, do you encourage your team to constantly explore different ways of doing business? What will you do to unleash the innovative spirit of those who look to you for guidance and direction?

In your leadership role, do you encourage your team to constantly explore different ways of doing business? In your leadership role, do you encourage your team to constantly explore different ways of doing business?

Be a Mentor

Champ fully embraced his role as loyal guardian and protector of our family. As a result, he generally seemed disinterested in befriending other neighborhood canines – with one noteworthy exception. In his later years, we were shocked to see Champ welcome an undersized and highly reserved mixed-breed Chow into his inner circle. Coco (who we eventually nicknamed “Coco Little Champ”) became Champ’s protégé and constant companion. It was odd to see the two of them together, but the big fella seemed quite content passing down his insights from a life lived full speed ahead.

What about you? Have you identified potential leaders in your organization to take under your wing and pour your energy, wisdom, and the leadership lessons you’ve learned into? Do you have a succession plan in place which allows your employees to fill in key roles as your company grows and changes?

Champ epitomized the expression “man’s best friend”. It’s hard to imagine my childhood without him by my side. But as we’ve seen, he also exhibited numerous leadership traits that we can learn from to improve ourselves and those we coach on a daily basis.

Take time today to reflect on the leadership lessons Champ taught us. Determine the specific steps you’ll implement to put these leadership lessons into practice within your organization.


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