The photo shows our dog Java. She is a fifteen-pound, Toy Australian Shepherd/Rat Terrier mix, and in my opinion one of the smartest dogs walking around on four legs. When Java first became a part of our family, she would shy away from me. But over time, by picking her up, holding and petting her, she became a close companion. After retiring from the fire department and running my business full time from our house, Java and I became closer. Closer to the point that she follows me nearly everywhere I go in the house, especially the kitchen. While working in my office, Java will often curl up at my feet or sleep a few feet away.
Why does Java follow me around like this? I’m sure that part of the reason lies in what I discovered last week when I came across an interesting article online titled, Why Your Dog Follows You Everywhere, According to Behaviorists by Katelyn Chef. The article states, “Jane MacMurchy, animal specialist and coordinator from Animal Charity of Ohio” said there is more than one reason why this happens, but “the first is imprinting.” MacMurchy pointed out that dogs are pack animals and “young puppies up to six months of age can imprint on their owners and learn to read social cues as they would their birth mother.”1 Alright, that makes sense to me, but my wife wonders if I imprinted on Java or did Java imprint on me. Regardless, that is a topic for another time.
Reading Katelyn Chef’s article, I was struck by the idea of imprinting as it relates to leadership. This led to an Internet research project revealing this definition of imprinting from www.medicinenet.com:
A remarkable phenomenon that occurs in animals, and theoretically in humans, in the first hours of life. The newborn creature bonds to the type of animals it meets at birth and begins to pattern its behavior after them. In humans, this is often called bonding, and it usually refers to the relationship between the newborn and its parents.2
This reminded me of the event center in rural Colorado where my daughter and her husband were married. When we first visited the site and every time thereafter, including on the day of the wedding, we were greeted by four friendly dogs and one goat. Yes, a goat was running with the pack of dogs. The owner said, “This has been going on for a long time and that goat thinks he’s part of the dog pack, so he follows them around.” As Mr. Spock from the original Star Trek series would dryly say while raising one eyebrow, “Fascinating.”
What does all of this have to do with leadership? Everything. Think about who you follow. How have they imprinted on you? What habits and mannerisms have you picked up from them? We had a fire chief one time who consistently used a couple of phrases: “bad dog” and “what say you?” You probably already guessed this, but we had a couple of individuals who started saying “bad dog” on a rather frequent basis and when those same individuals taught a class and made a statement, it was followed by “what say you?” No doubt some imprinting had taken place, but I will leave it up to the reader to decide if there was more to their actions then imprinting. The point is leaders impact us. Sometimes for the good and sometimes for the worse.
Previously I asked who you follow. Years back the pastor of a church I attended said, “You can’t run with skunks and smell like a rose.” Who would you rather be imprinted by: a values-based leader with character or a skunk? Who would you rather follow: a leader who is pleasant to be around or a smelly skunk? Who is impacting you: a courageous leader of integrity or someone with a stripe down their back? Now, let us turn this around. Who are you imprinting and in what manner? Who is following and watching you? Who are you impacting and how are you impacting them? Let these questions sink in and invest the time to reflect on them. That is one way we can improve.
Thank you for reading and be sure to visit my website and learn more about Impactus and the solutions I provide.
1Katelyn Chef, “Why Your Dog Follows You Everywhere, According to Behaviorists,” Martha Stewart September 2021. 21 Sept. 2021, https://www.marthastewart.com/8133863/why-do-dogs-follow-owners-everywhere
2MedicineNet.com. Davis, Charles Patrick. 2021. 21 Sept. 2021 https://www.medicinenet.com/imprinting_psychological/definition.htm