Learning Servant Leadership from a Dog

I had one of those epiphany moments this morning as I walked the dog. Of course, in Michigan at this time of year it is still more like sledding with the dog. Walking in early March adds a degree of difficulty as well since there will be some snow and ice melt during the day when it gets up to a blazing 35 degrees and then freezes again at night. Last night was one of those nights, and this morning as I walked patiently behind the dog waiting for her to get around to doing her business it was a frigid 11 degrees. I remember when March meant spring, but that’s a different story.

As I walked Sadie this morning, I experienced a convergence of several lessons I’ve been learning lately. Unfortunately, to get to the convergence, I have to give you the back story…

Part 1:
While not wanting to come across as whining, I do want to join the chorus of ministers that say that ministry life is hard work. There are times that are less hard, and times that are absolutely brutal. The last several months have been one of those absolutely brutal periods. Roll into that the care we provide to my brother in law, our attempts to get our niece, our oldest son is graduating, our middle child continues to struggle with Asperger’s, and that I’m battling major depression. A month or so back, as I walked in the door completely defeated and tired, I realized how much I missed our dog, Cody. She was awesome! It didn’t matter how bad the day was, when I came in the door she would run to me and jump up on my legs. Regardless of what had happened before I came home, she showered me with unconditional love. I wanted and needed that unconditional love again, so we adopted a dog from the pound.

Part 2:
Part of the brutality in ministry was from my perception that people were working against me. Granted, this is just my perception, and I should clarify that my leadership weakness is paranoia. People may or may not have actually been working against me, but I perceived that they were. There were about five people in particular that seemed to be actively undermining my ministry, and it drove me crazy. My initial approach was to try and gain the authority over the process and system in such a way that I had the ‘right’ to instruct them to behave. One of my co-ministers, a very wise and tall man, reminded me that true authority doesn’t come from a job description but rather from servant leadership. Duh! How had I forgotten? Somewhere in the stress, depression, paranoia I had forgotten one of the greatest principles of Christ’s leadership example.

This morning, as I walked… er, sledded… with Sadie through the back yard I realized something incredible. The reason Sadie jumps on me when I come home, the reason she leaps three feet in the air when I grab the leash, the reason she wags the whole back half of her body when I call her name has nothing to do with me. It has everything to do with what I do for Sadie. I speak excitedly when I see her. I rub her belly and scratch behind her ears. I share my blanket with her on the couch. I make sure she has proper medical care and enough food and water. I even get up at 6:00 in the morning and take her out in 11 degree weather (or colder), not because it’s fun but because she needs it.

Could treating people in the same manner as I treat my dog (contextually appropriate, of course. No belly rubs, people) cause them to respond with unconditional love in the same way Sadie shows me? If I spoke excitedly when I saw them, if I made sure their needs were met, if I gave them ‘strokes’ of encouragement and appreciation, would they respond with love? I’m not talking about responding in kind with similar treatment, but responding with the love of Christ.

I’m going to put this to the test for the next few weeks and see what kind of response I get. Would you join me? If so, take note and share the responses here. What do you think about the hypothesis? Do you think it will work? Does it make sense? Am I crazy for comparing people to a dog? Let me know.

11 Responses to Learning Servant Leadership from a Dog

  1. I hear you, friend. 🙂 Ministry is tough sometimes, especially during those times when you need to be ministered to! I know you know the many blessings that also come with the job!

    I don’t think you are comparing people to dogs. I believe you are witnessing unconditional love in action, which is often missed in the lives/actions of people. Take it from a fellow paranoid minister, you really miss the unconditional love from people when you constantly suspect people are trying to throw you or your family under the bus! Nevertheless, it IS there in a few wonderful souls, but we must be willing to make ourselves vulnerable enough to trust.

    I must say, after having three children, if anyone ever rubs my belly again I will smack them. So be warned. But, everyone has a better day when they hear words of blessing and affirmation and witness the love of Christ in action. 🙂

  2. […] Learning Servant Leadership From a Dog. Brad Palmore offers some very personal introspection and observation on leadership. Yes, it’s a cute title, but the post is serious stuff. […]

  3. John Dobbs says:

    I appreciate your transparency here … and the lesson you learned (although I regard it more as a remembrance because I’m sure you already knew it!).

  4. Joey says:

    This stopped me in my tracks. Powerful. Looks like I’ll need to be grabbing for a little sled-dog leadership as well. Thank you.

  5. Matt Dodd says:

    Very insightful. I am glad you shared your epiphany with us so that we… I can be encouraged.

  6. […] Resources The redemption of huggingMarch 5th, 2011 by Brad PalmoreA few days ago I blogged about an incredible revelation I had while walking my dog. That post was one of my most popular ever! Thanks for the great feedback! I’ve been trying […]

  7. Jpoyner49 says:

    I’m trying to get caught up with your blog, Brad, so I’m late commenting on this one. And I may be repeating what others have said, but it makes great sense to me, and I think it can work. The heart of a servant is what we should have. I don’t think it will work every time, because people are people, and we do not always respond as we should. Christ gave/gives unconditional love to so many who do not welcome Him at the door.

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