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Be the Pack Leader

By: Rick Piraino

Be the Pack Leader Part One Blog


I’ve been reading Cesar’s Way by Cesar Millan of  Dog Whisperer fame and it has taught me some interesting new things about leadership. Dogs are tuned in to energy and communicate with each other through it.


Cesar describes pack members as having calm and submissive energy while pack leaders are calm and assertive.


Let's set aside the human associations we have with these words that are undesirable, such as passive, subservient, meek or docile. Submissive in this context means the willingness to follow and be led.


Let’s learn what we can from man’s best friend and see what we can apply to our work life.


First, the Pack Leader (PL) must be the PL 100% of the time. If there is a gap in leadership, one of the pack will rise up to fill it. The pack needs, and is looking for, its leader to be the leader 100% of the time.


The PL will reestablish his leadership with a light warning “bite.” This communicates that he is still the PL and closes the door on challenges to taking over his leadership from the pack.


The PL’s bite is not vicious or attacking. This would express unstable, hostile energy and undermine his leadership even further. Instead, it is calm, asserts his leadership and restores the cooperative followership of the pack.


Be the Pack Leader.


I’ve come to watch people with their dogs. I notice that many of the humans are being yanked around the block by their dogs. Because the human hasn’t stepped into the role of leader, the dog assumes the role instead.


When the human is the PL, the dog walks alongside or behind the human and watches her to see where the pack is headed.


Cesar says that the tone of the walk is set before you leave the house. Whoever walks out of the door first is the PL.


A real-world example of leading the pack.


My daughter was doing her student teaching at a grade school with a challenging group of kids. We were discussing Cesar’s ideas relative to her position as the PL with the kids.


I asked her how the kids entered the classroom at the beginning of the day. She replied they run in with hyperactive energy and it takes a chunk of time to settle them down before the day’s work can begin.


She then wondered what would happen if she had them wait outside the room until the children were calm and focused enough to enter.


She tried it the next day and it had an instant effect on the way the kids went to their desks and began their day. Of course, that’s not all it takes, she must continue to solidify her PL position with the children to get consistent results.


Fortunately, even old dogs can learn new tricks.


Even if you have already established the values and expectations of your pack, if you are not seeing the behaviors you want, now is a good time to review your leadership consistency and energy.


Strive to establish your calm assertive energy as the PL 100% of the time.


Leaders see dramatic changes when they address undesirable behavior with clear expectations and consequences.


Human beings are astute observers of behavior.


We are sending messages all the time. Our people tune into our body language, tone of voice, and facial expressions. All of these things send messages about our thoughts and feelings.


So, is the point of this week’s lesson to become hyper-alert to managing the subtle nuances of our non-verbals? Not possible – there are too many for us to ever hope of controlling them.


We can’t fake energy – who we are always shows up regardless of our words.


Rather, the point is that calm and assertive leadership is only possible when you own your authority. Use it steadily and carry the best interests of the pack at heart.


Remember, the state of the pack mirrors the state of its leader.



  1. Identify members of your “pack” who are challenging you with their behavior or words.
  2. Identify what patterns in your behavior might be attracting this challenge.
    1. What authority or respect are you not claiming as yours in your leadership position?
    2. What reactivity or aggressive responses create instability with your employees?
    3. Where are you being inconsistent in your leadership or failing to set the tone?
  3. Are you failing to provide a warning “bite” by letting your pack member know what your expectations are relative to their  undesirable behavior?
    1. This should not come out of anger but from the quiet authority of one who knows they have it and will use it if needed.
    2. With overly assertive or aggressive employees, you have to be the bigger dog. Don’t be afraid to take things off the table of discussion. Let them know your non-negotiables. Trying to convince this type of person of your point of view will only attract more debate.

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