Leadership Lessons I Learned from Ryder

Posted by bhulsey - 09 August, 2011

Summer gives us all a chance to slow down and appreciate the finer things in life, and I always enjoy spending a little extra time with our black lab, Ryder.  He’s now eleven years old, and he’s been a fixture in our family for a very long time.  Ryder earned a place in my heart forever when he helped my mother manage a very difficult time in her life back in May of 2001.  Mom was suffering from Alzheimer’s, and as Jennifer’s family and the Hulsey family made final preparations for our wedding that Memorial Day, Mom was really struggling.  Ryder was just a rambunctious puppy, but he knew her pain and gave her comfort when no one else could.  For that, I will always be grateful.

Some years ago Linda Bunker, a professor in the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia, had the audacity to suggest that dogs (ever the obedient creatures!) can actually teach us a great deal about leadership.  She referenced her great pal, Jacob, and wrote that he was a model of leadership that we could all emulate.  What follows comes from Linda’s notes about how dogs show us how to serve as leaders.

  1. When friends and family come home, always run to greet them.
  2. When it’s in your best interest, practice obedience.
  3. Never pretend you’re something you’re not.
  4. When you want something badly, dig like crazy.
  5. Never pass up a chance to use the restroom.
  6. When you are happy, dance and wag your entire body.
  7. When you know a secret, wag your tail, not your tongue.
  8. No matter how often you’re scolded, don’t buy into the guilt thing and pout.  Instead, run right back and make friends.
  9. Be a friend to those in need.

So here’s to Ryder, and to all of our dogs.  They really can teach us a great deal about how to live life to its fullest.  Now of course the notion that dogs teach leadership lessons is mildly outlandish and the observations that Linda offers about Jacob are made with tongue at least slightly in cheek.

So what example do our dogs really offer?  In my estimation, they are models of initiative.  I have never questioned Ryder’s appetite for food, going on a walk, riding in the car, taking a swim, or chasing a squirrel.  He is always eager to take on the next adventure.

Randolph students, teachers, coaches, parents, and alumni share in common a natural (and occasionally a learned) initiative that makes this a special community.  Here we benefit from rich experiences in academics, the arts, and athletics, a culture of high expectations in everything we do, and life-long relationships that change us forever.

The most accomplished learners are always taking initiative.  They want to know what’s next.  They are not fixated on a grade or some other metric of external evaluation.  They don’t sit back and wait to be informed; instead they push forward and embrace new frontiers of knowledge and experience.  They may not always be leaders in the traditional sense, but they have a love of life and a love of learning that defines this school as a community of learners in whatever we take on at Randolph.

Topics: learning, Head of School, Community of Learners, initiative

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