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Time to Reflect this Christmas: Six Leadership Lessons from a Lab

December 20, 2015

This Christmas leadership post is dedicated to my five grandchildren: Lily, Ashley, Briar, Ethan and Logan: May the world be a brighter place in which to live when you are adults.

Max Xmas 1AIt doesn’t seem that long ago when Sue and I, accompanied by our two youngest daughters (at the time 16 and 21) drove to the far side of Ottawa to check out a seven week-old Yellow Labrador puppy.

He was the last of the litter at the farm where he was born to a pure bred male Yellow Lab and a female Labrador-Retriever cross. Man, he was adorable – a ball of hyperactive fur, running and rolling around the barn. His stoic father briefly entered the scene, taking a look at us and then sauntering off. I guess the four of us passed the test, for not long afterwards we were on our way home. By then, Elizabeth and Joanne had named the little fellow, Max.

Upon arriving at home, we put Max on the grass to have a pee, only to watch the previously brave little puppy stand trembling on the lawn, not sure what was going on. But all was well, and has been since we brought Max into our home nine and a half years ago. Four adult children, who all live in the Ottawa area, with our five grandkids has made our home all that much richer. And Max is in his glory.

Yes, when the entire clan descends on our home – a fairly regular occurrence – we need a traffic cop for crowd control. But it’s a lot of fun. And for Max, he’s busy meeting people at the door (I haven’t figured out how to train him to hang up coats) and escorting them to the living room. When the little ones want to pet Max, he lies on the floor soaking in their attention, with the occasional little grunt or groan emanating from his huge chest.

Max brings perspective to life.

As human beings increasingly addicted to speed, from wanting instant replies to text messages to yelling at a coffee shop barista for taking too long to laying on the horn in a crowded mall parking lot at Christmas, we’ve pretty much lost perspective. Intolerance of which I recently wrote a leadership post, seems to be re-emerging after years of progress in diversity in Canada and the United States.

I despair at times when I observe the state of the world. Being a retired federal economist and leadership project manager, not to forget long-time news junkie, our world seems to be on a fast-rolling treadmill of non-stop disparate events, many of which are having negative effects on Planet Earth and its inhabitants. I’m especially saddened with how some of my fellow Canadians have engaged in not just hate speech but in some cases violence towards Muslims.

I reacted viscerally when I read of the incident in early December when a young Muslim woman on a Toronto transit bus was berated by an older white woman, who not only told her to go home but hoped that she would be raped. The two dozen passengers sat mutely by. Or the case of the mosque that was set on fire in Peterborough, Ontario, around the same time.

Trudeau SyriansYes, many Canadians have welcomed the initial arrivals of Syrian refugees (25,000 by the end of February). And Canadians are proud of the humanitarian stand of their new prime minister, Justin Trudeau (photo of Trudeau at Toronto International Airport meeting the first planeload of Syrians in December). But to think that on the cusp of 2016 Canada still has a segment of the population with intolerance, and in some cases hate, in their veins is a sad commentary on this country.

I am not a practicing Protestant, but I’m confident that if Christ were alive today he would be appalled at the behaviors of pseudo Christians towards those of another religion from distant lands. Shame on Canada – and shame on America for the political fear-mongering spectacle that has been unfolding in what is supposed to be the Land of the Free.

Shortly before publishing this post, one of the most important events in recent Canadian history took place on December 15th. It was the concluding ceremony of the final report from the Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission, led by Justice Murray Sinclair, himself First Nations. Since 2009, Justice Sinclair and his team investigated the abuses and deaths that occurred among First Nations and Inuit youth over seven decades in the federal government’s residential school system. Young indigenous children were torn from their homes, only to be beaten and raped, with many dying from diseases such as tuberculosis. That system, which began in the 1870s, finally shut down in 1996.

A visibly emotional Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attended the ceremony (former Prime Minister Stephen Harper refused to attend the earlier summary report meeting). During his address to the audience, Trudeau stated unequivocally that building a new relationship with First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples was his top priority, and that of his justice minister (First Nations herself). He then looked the audience in the eye and said, “I give you my word.” He followed this with announcing that the commission into the disappearances and murders of some 1,200 missing indigenous women (between 1980 and 2012) had just started (a commission that Stephen Harper refused to initiate).

My sincere hope for 2016 is that, as Prime Minister Trudeau so eloquently stated, the burden begins to be lifted off the shoulders of Canada’s indigenous peoples, for they’ve carried it long enough.

Max  - Erica Aug 2012And that brings me back to Max.

Max is now almost 70 in human years. That in itself deserves some measure of respect.

From his life experiences as a fun-loving Lab, he has six leadership lessons to share with you at this time of year when people are supposed to be thinking of being kind towards one another. Take a moment to reflect on Max’s leadership lessons.

1) Love everyone, regardless of color, gender, religion, sexual orientation or physical ability.

2) Never judge anyone; accept who they are – warts and all.

3) Protect the vulnerable, for they deserve as much respect as you.

4) Lead your life by looking ahead, not by looking in the rearview mirror.

5) Never lose your sense of humor, no matter how old you get; keep everything in perspective.

6) When someone steals your slippers, try not to get mad; will it matter in five years? Ten years? As the saying goes, don’t sweat the small stuff.

Max is nearing the end of the line in a couple more years. He’s had some health issues recently and Sue and I strive to do what we can to keep him well and happy. I know that day is coming in the not too distant future when Max will no longer be with us. It will be a very sad day when it arrives. I’m not sure how we’ll help our grandkids through that process, given how much they love him.

But in the interim, we can all learn what the Maxs of the world bring into our homes and communities: love, devotion and trust.

Thank you for your loyal readership over the past seven years. It’s been an honor to have been on the WordPress platform and to have readers in over 160 countries.

Merry Christmas everyone. Stay safe, enjoy family and friends, and make sure to laugh a lot.

I’ll see you all in January.

Don’t accept your dog’s admiration as conclusive evidence that you are wonderful.
– Ann Landers


Book CoverClick here to download my complimentary e-book Discover Your Inner Leader: Reflections to Inspire and Motivate.


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6 Comments leave one →
  1. Alex Kostetsky permalink
    December 20, 2015 7:53 pm

    Jim, Merry Christmas to you and your family, best wishes!

    • December 20, 2015 11:53 pm

      Thanks Alex. Enjoy a safe Christmas holiday and all the best in the New Year. And many thanks for your readership.

  2. Brenda McKee permalink
    December 20, 2015 5:11 pm

    Merry Christmas Jim and Sue. Love your post! We have an ailing black lab but he continues to bring much joy into our days and we will enjoy him while he is around….he is not suffering yet.

    • December 20, 2015 11:55 pm

      Wonderful to hear from you, Brenda. Thanks for stopping by to read my Christmas post; feel free to share it. Yes, our pets bring joy to our homes and can teach us a few things about life and leadership. Merry Christmas.

  3. December 20, 2015 2:57 pm

    Great post, and I loved Ann Landers’ comment at the end! We’re in a similar position with our cat,
    11 years old, as you are with Max. Hope you have a good few years left.

    • December 20, 2015 3:45 pm

      Thanks very much, Lynne. I hope that you and your family have a wonderful Christmas on the other side of the pond.

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