Servant leadership lessons from a service dog named Tuesday? Lately, I’m realizing leadership lessons often come from the most unlikely sources.
A Dusty Book
In preparation for a recent trip requiring over 26 driving hours, I started scanning my Audible library. Near the bottom of my library, I found “Until Tuesday: A Wounded Warrior and the Golden Retriever Who Saved Him.” I spent my hard-earned, Dave Ramsey approved spending money on an untouched audiobook. For some reason, almost a decade after my purchase, the book was still collecting digital dust.
Correction. “For some reason” is not exactly accurate. I knew exactly why it sat there.
I might be a large, broad-shouldered man, but I’ve inherited my father’s sensitivity to well-told emotional stories. While I can hold my own in most contact sports, I still can’t make it through Old Yeller without turning into a blubbering mess. I may have had to refill my popcorn towards the end of Marley & Me.
Until Tuesday was highly recommended by a few friends when I was reviewing my options for my monthly Audible credit, so I made the purchase. Later that evening the book came up in a dinner conversation. My daughters chimed in, “Wow, you sure you’re up for a book like that? Don’t you remember the Marley & Me incident?”
A decade later, I finally had the courage to begin the journey of learning about a dog named Tuesday. Fortunately for those confined to the car with me for 26 hours, the story of Tuesday has a much different ending than Old Yeller or Marley & Me. I won’t lie to you, the book is graphic at times. It is full of emotional ups and downs, but it is an inspiring story about the healing power of connection. The power of connection between a deeply wounded man and his specially trained service dog, Tuesday.
Tuesday Takes Me to School
Tuesday was a golden retriever. A breed known for their intelligence, even-temperament, and affection. These characteristics are ideal for service dogs, but Tuesday’s training took him far beyond genetics. Tuesday was trained by East Coast Assistance Dogs (ECAD), an organization dedicated to raising service dogs that bring healing and assistance to those struggling with a variety of challenges.
ECAD paired Tuesday with Luis Montalván(the author of this book) at the completion of his training. His training equipped him with the ability to perform many tasks from turning on lights to bringing Luis his shoes & socks. In addition to performing tasks, Tuesday monitored Luis’s physical and mental health as well as any risks around them.
Servant Leadership Lesson #1 – Effective leaders learn to look.
As servant leaders, we aren’t exactly called to wait on those we lead hand and foot. Yes, we will often provide needed resources to empower those around us, but it’s rarely just giving others everything they request. The best leaders can often assess others and steer them in a direction they may not have realized they needed to go. Tuesday was an expert in this skill:
“He was monitoring my breathing, scrutinizing my body language. He knew I was anxious, and he came to pull me back to the present. When I see that look—or even better, when he climbs all the way up on the bed and puts his chin across my keyboard—I know it’s Tuesday time. I never argue. Tuesday knows what I need more than I do, and besides, I love playing with him. When he interrupts my work, I know it’s not because he’s bored or lonely, but because I need him.” – Luis Montalván, Until Tuesday
As a leader, I know I need to be in tune with those I lead, but I could certainly learn from this gifted service dog. Could conversations go differently if I was intentional about recognizing the impacts of my words and actions on others? Could I more effectively lead if I was willing to look for signs of safety eroding and pause for a bit rather than push through the agenda?
Servant Leadership Lesson #2 – Effective leaders function as ballast.
One of Tuesday’s most fascinating skills was his ability to act as ballast:
“When their owner gets nervous, most dogs mimic them, getting nervous themselves. Not Tuesday. He has the ability to act as ballast, to balance the relationship by going in the opposite direction.” – Luis Montalván, Until Tuesday
Dogs aren’t the only mammals who often mimic the reactions of those around them. Like it or not, as humans we are often impacted by the responses of others. Often one of the best gifts we can give those we lead is a stabilizing ballast when things are turbulent. When tempers flare or chaos erupts, we can be the calming factor in the storm. When frustration begins to overwhelm, we can be the voice of encouragement.
Servant Leadership Lesson #3 – Effective leaders connect with and value those they encounter.
Tuesday had an amazing way of connecting with others and he valued each encounter:
“I am always moved to see these wonderful old veterans of life petting Tuesday in the sun. I don’t know all of their names, even after all these encounters, but—and I know this sounds weird—Tuesday does. He knows more about these people than I will ever dare to discover.”- Luis Montalván, Until Tuesday
Showing others we value them through our actions is one of the most powerful traits of a servant leader. John C. Maxwell believes there are three questions every follower asks of a leader:
- Do you like me?
- Can you help me?
- Can I trust you?
When we answer these three questions for those we lead, we are able to connect at a much deeper level. We are able to show them we value them. Tuesday modeled this concept with every interaction he had with others. His infectious golden retriever temperament constantly conveyed “I like you!” He had a willingness to serve that begged “let me help you!” Trust radiated from his golden smile and his constantly wagging tail.
I don’t know about you, but after reading about Tuesday in action I could certainly improve my ability to connect with those I lead. What kind of an impact could we have if on a daily basis we were able to simply convey “I value you” to everyone we encountered?