The New Pack Leader: A Modern Business Fable, Part One

Susan CEO slammed her hand down onto the oval conference table and stood up, knocking over her chair.  “I’ve had it with bickering about budgets and resources.  Don’t you realize we are one company, not a collection of independent fiefdoms?  You people behave like the rival city-states of medieval Italy.”

She collected her papers and headed towards the door then turned back to face her stunned direct reports.  “The only thing you seem to care about are your own departments and your precious programs; everyone jockeying for additional resources so you can look good at the end of the year.  In the meantime, our overall market share is falling, it takes forever to introduce new products, and we haven’t had a breakthrough innovation in the past three years.   Either we figure out how to work together to deliver our overall strategic goals, or there will be a lot of new faces around this table next quarter.”  She stomped out.  “Staff meeting adjourned!”

5:30am the next morning:  Susan CEO laced up her running shoes, exited the apartment lobby, crossed the boulevard and eased onto the jogging trail that circled the park.  She always looked forward to her early morning exercise as a way of clearing her mind of extraneous thoughts and focusing on the day’s most important issues.  Today however, her mind was still consumed with the lack of alignment and narrow focus of her management team, not to mention the poor overall performance of her company for the past two quarters.  She knew the two issues were connected, but the solution continued to elude her.  After all, without teamwork it’s tough to make effective forward progress, especially with the growing competition in their industry.

Jogging quickly over a small rise she noticed up ahead a dog walker with what seemed like a dozen dogs of various breeds and sizes, all on leads, moving briskly through the light morning fog.  She stopped in her tracks; the dogs were moving together almost as a single entity; none of the leashes were tangled nor was there any pushing or jostling.  It looked more like a coordinated Alaskan dog sled team than a pack of dogs from different owners.  Sue shook her head and smiled. “If only my team acted like that we could really move forward.”

She resumed jogging, this time keeping pace with the pack, fascinated by their individual calmness yet their collective energy.  And the young dog-walker was not straining or trying to control the pack.  It as if he was guiding them; a small gesture and the entire pack moved to the left as a cyclist peddled by, then another gesture as they moved back into the middle of the trail.

Sue CEO lengthened her stride and pulled up alongside the dog-walker and his pack.  “It’s amazing how you can control all those dogs and get them to walk together.  Are they drugged or something?”  They both laughed.  The dogs gave her a quick look then turned their attention back to their morning walk.

“It’s funny, nearly everyday someone passes by and asks me about the dogs.  I guess they expect me to be struggling, yanking the leashes and yelling at the top of my lungs.  Believe it or not, I have different dogs rotating in and out of this pack all the time; sometimes three or four are new at once.”

“Well, there must be a secret. I’ve never seen dogs so well behaved.  And they seem to be enjoying themselves.”  Sue was definitely curious.

The young dog-walker grinned.  “It’s really very simple.  The dogs want and need their exercise, but they also need clear rules, boundaries and limitations.  So, my job is to be the “pack leader” and establish clear rules, boundaries and limitations so we can all have an energetic walk and a positive experience. I also establish a set routine so that every dog understands the route and the expectations; and believe it or not the experienced dogs seem to help the newer ones quickly get into the routine.”  He laughed.  “Being together with the dogs is the best part of my day.”

“I wish I could say that about my staff meetings”, muttered Sue.  “Anyway, thanks for the chat and enjoy your pack.”  She waved and sprinted off up the hill to finish her morning run.

At the Office:   Walking into the office at 8:00am Sue’s thoughts were still captivated by the dog-walker and the aligned pack of dogs.  The words “rules”, “boundaries” and “limitations”, as well as the idea of a set way of working kept turning over in her head.  “I wonder….” muttered Sue, thinking again about her direct reports and how poorly they worked together.  She opened her contact list, flicked through the listings and picked up the phone to make an important dinner date.

(Be sure to check out tomorrow’s blog for Part Two of Sue CEO)

Tight Lines . . .

About johnrchildress

John Childress is a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at or
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