"It soon became clear that my best resource for managing Angel would be, unexpectedly, the six decades of experience I had in a variety of management positions and the principles I had learned in the process."
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How a successful and innovative manager approaches his or her job is more often than not inspired in the most unique and unusual ways. For Chip Conley, author of Peak, it was Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. For Martin P. Levin, it was his dog. When he adopted Angel, he thought that a bond would be cultivated easily and naturally. He was wrong. The bonding process with Angel would prove to have parallels to his many years of business management. Both Angel and his prior work experience would heavily influence Levin’s book All I Know About Management I Learned from My Dog, and its Four Golden Rules of Management:
Rule 1: Trust and Leadership
Rule 2: Communication
Rule 3: Problem Solving and Decision Making
Rule 4: Perseverance
While the rules are simple to remember, like anything, seeing results in your professional life will take a great deal of care and effort, just as it did with Angel.
The Big Idea
Build a Foundation of Trust
"If a manager can develop trust, it will lead to corporate excellence, provided he is able to communicate effectively, make the right decisions, and above all, persevere."
Fostering a sense of trust is at the heart of All I Know About Management I Learned from My Dog. All management, whether of people or dogs, begins with a foundation of trust. Levin, who was admittedly “getting a failing grade in grief management” after the death of his beloved wife, was persuaded by his therapist to get a dog. So, it was with some trepidation that he visited his local SPCA. Shortly thereafter Levin left with Angel, a beautiful golden retriever/virgule chow mix. On the car ride home Angel sat in the backseat, shivering with fear. “When I decided to adopt a dog by the name of Angel,” Levin writes, “I thought this would be an interesting but not very challenging experience. Bad judgment.”
The SPCA’s policy is such that Levin came to adopt Angel knowing virtually nothing of her previous history. He would later learn that Angel had runaway after suffering abuse and had fought for survival before being picked up by the SPCA. (When the SPCA found Angel, they contacted her owner who said that her husband had abused the dog. Heartbroken, she gave Angel the greatest gift all by refusing to allow her to return to that toxic environment.) The dog, understandably, was not quick to trust. For Levin the answer to making any sort of headway with Angel came from his six decades of management, and how he dealt with the teams he worked with.
Expert Advice: Proceed with Caution
"The resourceful manager should be able to deal with an uncomfortable result and place the event in the ‘do not repeat’ file. The expert should not be faulted because this event was out of his control."
Expert advice is important, and should be solicited, especially when you are new at something, as Levin was in trying to gain the trust of his formerly abused dog. But Levin cautions that when moving ahead with any advice it is best to use your own judgment, as the results are ultimately on your shoulders. He provides an example of Angel’s first plane ride to illustrate his point.
For any dog to be allowed to fly, they must be certified “fit to fly.” While getting the necessary documents, the veterinarian suggested bringing along Xanax (yes, Xanax) to give to Angel in case she showed signs of anxiety. “I thought that given the trust we had been developing between us, she would feel comfortable with me and Paula [on the plane ride],” writes Levin.
Still, he took the advice of the vet and brought the pills along with him. Angel, as the vet predicted, began to shake midway through the flight as they reached a higher altitude. Levin acquiesced to the vet’s advice and gave Angel half a pill. No luck. Then the other half. Nothing. Hating to see his beloved friend in a state of such terror, Levin gave Angel an additional pill. It wasn’t long before Angel was completely comatose. When the plane landed, Levin and his friend Paula couldn’t wake Angel. They received additional help, and it was decided that it was impossible to carry the 71 pound dog, so they would have to lift her onto a wheelchair and push her through the airport. All through the terminal the motley party received glares as Levin pushed the dog in the wheelchair, and Paula hovered around trying to avoid “slippage”.
This incident has its equivalent in business management. Levin stresses (especially when trying to gauge tolerance) the importance of recognizing that employing any advice has unpredictable consequences, which are ultimately the responsibility of the manager. So, proceed with caution. But, if you do not get the result you are looking for, at least you have learned a thing or two from it.
Communication is Key
"One of the publishers in Madras invited us to visit holy sites with his family, and as we walked together, he counseled that I was not communicating in a way that was relevant to the Indian culture."
In the 1950s, Martin Levin travelled to India on behalf of the Ford Foundation to create “a massive distribution system for books written in the five major language of South India.” When he arrived, he quickly discovered that the Indian publishers had a different expectation of how the money would be used—mostly because of inherent cultural differences. When Levin gave a presentation with his idea of how the sum of money should be spent, he was elated to see his audience nodding in agreement. It wasn’t until after that he learned that in India nodding your head up and down is a sign of disapproval; it is nodding from side to side in India that indicates agreement—the exact opposite of the Western culture. He was crestfallen.
After his presentation, he became friendly with one of the local publishers who gave him a book of Indian fables translated into English. He devoured the stories, and one in particular stood out as representative of what he was trying to impart to his Indian audience. He related the fable to them the next time he met with the publishers, and they were now able to see his vision clearly. This anecdote had parallels half a century later when Levin was trying to communicate with Angel. The divide between human and canine is obviously greater than American and Indian cultures, but either way, doing research still proves fruitful in breaking down communication barriers.
Martin P. Levin’s All I Know About Management I Learned from My Dog is a slim volume but effective. As the dust jacket states, “management doctrine need not be dense and difficult to read.” Often employing humorous and poignant examples, with the Four Golden Rules easily laid out, this book will help inspire a difference in the effectiveness in the way you manage—whether it’s fleet of employees or a single canine that you just want to return your love. Besides, the story of a zonked Angel being wheeled through a Florida airport is worth the price of the book alone!