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Be The Pack Leader Part Two:

By: Rick Piraino

Be The Pack Leader Part Two


Cesar Millan, the Dog Whisperer, was discussing the correct way to meet a dog. “Correct,” in this context, means balancing the nuances of dog culture with establishing an energetic position as a pack leader.


Let’s review and apply this to leadership.


In one episode of Cesar’s show, a dog became fearful and agitated any time it was taken to the vet. Cesar was going to address this by going to the vet with the dog and its owner.


When they arrived, the vet greeted the dog by getting down on her knees and calling the dog in an excited, enthusiastic and solicitous manner.


The dog was already agitated, and this made things worse.


Cesar asked the vet if he could give her some feedback, which she accepted.


He said her energy was excited rather than calm, which was adding to the dog’s anxiety. Further, by getting down on her knees and calling the dog to her, she was placing herself in a subordinate position.


The vet changed to a less excited and more dominant approach, and the dog became calmer. This enabled Cesar to begin the process of reprogramming the dog’s reaction at the vet’s clinic.


Now let’s apply this situation to a work-related leadership challenge.


A young supervisor I was coaching, let’s call him Bert, was promoted to a management position. He inherited an employee, let’s call him Ernie, who was known for his aggressive reactions when receiving directions he didn’t like.


Bert took a low-key approach to leadership in his new role. He wanted to be seen as a nice guy who was willing to listen to and support his people.


This worked great with the more calm and submissive employees, but it caused him to lose the Pack Leader position to Ernie.


Of course, every interaction reinforced this dynamic. Bert would make a request and Ernie would tell him why his request was not a good idea, was not possible or was bad for the department/company.


Bert would try unsuccessfully to come back with a rationale to convince Ernie. Bert worked hard to maintain his nice guy position with patience and persistence. With most of his team, this approach was helpful, and he gained credibility.


At one point in time, the company decided to implement a new, complex software program to track key services within.


When Bert delivered the news, Ernie would explain why this was a bad idea.


Ernie shared that there was no way he was going to mess up his department with a new software program. He argued that his department was struggling enough to get their products and services to customers without having to muck things up further with a new software program.


Ernie’s opinion was that these programs never do what they are supposed to do.


When Bert described this challenge in our coaching session, I told him Ernie had become the department's Pack Leader and described the dog analogy.


There was no way Ernie would accept direction from Bert voluntarily.


Ernie believed the department needed a strong leader who would protect the people and services. By trying to convince Ernie, Bert was surrendering the Pack Leader position to him.


Ernie held the power of evaluating and approving (or not) Bert’s ideas even though Bert was the leader.


The Remedy:


Bert and I built a script that he could use to communicate that the software implementation is a non-negotiable expectation from Bert. This strengthened Bert’s Pack Leader position.


Ernie then had to decide how difficult or easy he was going to make the implementation, but it was going to happen with or without his cooperation. He knew at this point that if he chose to slow things down or negatively affect the implementation, there would be consequences.


Ernie cared about the department and didn’t want to hurt it. With Bert’s clear expectations and the statement of accountabilities, Ernie accepted Bert's leadership. Bert had stepped into his authority with Ernie for the first time.


In a pack, any time the leader shows weakness, another dog will challenge him. Someone must lead. A leader has to be the leader 100% of the time.


When you lead with calm, assertive energy, the pack responds with calm, submissive energy and fights and other problematic behaviors are minimized.


Bert finally made a good start at this. Now he must continue to hold his position as Pack Leader. It was a courageous step from a young leader with an older, more experienced employee.


In this situation, Bert’s courage was rewarded with appropriate power and a feeling of the good he could now do for his people, including Ernie.



  1. Consider the consistency of your leadership with the employees whom you serve.
    1. What are the challenging situations or people you tend to back away from?
    2. Record these insights.
    3. What is behind this gap in your leadership?

  2. Are there any thoughts or fears that are causing this inconsistency?

  3. In what ways have employees responded to this inconsistency?

  4. Now write a script like Bert did to address this situation with calm and assertive leadership.
    1. What expectations or consequences, do you need to make clear?

  5. Make sure to have the conversation!

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