Things You Can Learn From a Dog That Will Help Your Career

Last Updated Dec 1, 2010 1:53 PM EST

"Outside of a dog, a book is probably man's best friend -- and inside of a dog, it's too dark to read."-- Groucho Marx

It seems we'll go to any lengths these days to find inspiration and guidance, particularly when it comes to the subject of how to behave at work. Whether it's the cool-headed planning of Machiavelli or the management finesse of Genghis Khan, there's a consistent hunger to know what the Big Dogs know. "Teach us the rules so we can play on your turf!" the new generation demands of the old. As my colleague Suzanne Lucas has kindly pointed out, "People need help."

But do we really have to reach so far back into history for torches to illuminate the path? I think not. In fact, we may have to look no farther than our own back yards...or family sofas. In random order, here are some laudable canine traits, which, if correctly applied, should arouse your nascent (or ailing) career to its fullest potential.

A dog doesn't complain when you wake him. We've already talked about this, haven't we? I realize you like to sleep. So does a dog! Still, he embraces each moment -- a recurring theme, as we'll soon see -- and is ready for action no matter what the clock says.

Regardless of how long it took him to get comfortable, he's not inconvenienced by having to move. Didn't someone once write an inane book about this? The point is that certainty and security are illusions. You can do three rotations or 300 before settling in -- it makes no difference ­­-- but as long as you're working for a company or for yourself, rich or poor, living in society or a hermit...there is no safe haven, period. Forget your bobblehead collection or whatever it is and move on to the next thing.

He only cares what you say to him, not about him. Science might one day prove me wrong...and I can live with that. Meantime, I'm confident stating that a dog is not interested in what you think of him -- only how you act. Since he is never fake or disingenuous, I guess he just takes it for granted that you are equally real. Your opinions don't matter -- neither does gossip, slander or innuendo -- so there's little chance of him taking offense when your view of him doesn't flatter or match his own. He loves your praise, shrinks from your rebuke and appears to never carry a grudge because he doesn't dwell on the past. What counts for him is right now. Don't you wish you knew people like this?

No pants? No problem! Most of us can only imagine what it's like to forget about how they look to others. Even as infants, we learn to engineer our public images for maximum effectiveness. A dog will also develop and modify his behavior based on environmental reinforcements, but for him it's all about the result, not the image -- which is nothing more than memory with gum on its shoe. He doesn't think he's a big deal or a martyr, either one. No lying, no exaggerating. He just is what he is.

He's there for you - not for you to help him self-actualize. Yeah, it's the loyalty thing. Also known as fidelity...hence the name "Fido." If we started looking through this end of the telescope, we'd all be a lot more productive. News flash: Your employer is only interested in what you can do for the business. That doesn't make you a slave or require you to be co-dependent. Find your satisfaction when and where you can get it, but be the dedicated servant while you're at work and watch the dividends accrue. As usual, it's not about you.

Everything and everybody has to pass the smell test. You've seen this a thousand times. A dog gathers robust, highly-textured data through his olfactory sense, similar to how a blind person reads Braille or the way Sherlock Holmes seems clairvoyant. You can learn to do it, too. It might be literal or metaphorical; just remember that your brain figures heavily into the equation. Whether sniffing out a compelling proposal or a shapely derriere, ask yourself: Does this smell right? Is something off? Does it all add up? When do we eat?

Take a short power nap. Everything in moderation, right?

  • Mark Jaffe

    As President of Wyatt & Jaffe, Mark Jaffe has been called one of the 'World's 100 Most Influential Headhunters' by BusinessWeek magazine. His firm, Wyatt & Jaffe, works with a select list of financial services, high-tech and consumer companies worldwide and has been called one of the 50 leading retained search firms in North America.