Unintended consequences

There’s a photo of our 2-year old Goldendoodle, Leland, hanging in my office.  (https://tinyurl.com/re8cds8) She’s standing in Lake Michigan holding a rock in her mouth. There’s a swoosh of water encircling her head, because she had just emerged from retrieving the rock I had thrown. I’ll admit it was amusing to watch.  Most dogs don’t like to submerge their heads under water. Also, most dogs prefer to fetch sticks and balls over rocks. My wife, Kathy warned me I might want to rethink my strategy.

How did we get there?

I take a lot of pictures…of rocks…stacked rocks, to be specific.  When Leland was a puppy, she was constantly getting in my way as I worked to balance my rocks. Worse, she would often stand right between the rock stack and the water, impeding the shot I was after. Or, she would stand just out of the frame and cast a shadow on the subject of my shot.  So, after a few failed attempts at asking her to sit quietly on my side, I decided to throw rocks. 

And she fetched.  Every. One. 

Regardless of the size or shape, 9 times out of 10, Leland would bring back the same rock I had just thrown.  It was a little unbelievable at first. And the time it took Leland to chase after each thrown rock was just enough time for me to snap a few shots. I was happy I got my photos and Leland was happily busying herself on the shore.  My distraction strategy was working perfectly, or so I thought.

Pretty soon, every time Leland accompanied me to the beach, she would look up at me, then down at the rocks peppering the beach, and whine as if I would be guilted into tossing a rock for her to retrieve. Even when Kathy would go to the beach to read, Leland would be at her heels begging for some rock fetching action.  

Actually, it became impossible for either of us to go toward the water without Leland throwing a fit and demanding to join us so she could take up where she left off.  It was such a problem that in the mornings when I would venture out to snap a few shots of the sunrise, I would have to sneak out of the house without allowing the door to make crack or squeak so as not to wake the dog.

The icing on the cake was a visit to a local park on Lake Michigan.  I was doing ok keeping Leland occupied while I stacked rocks. But then, as we were leaving a family arrived and proceeded to skip rocks into the lake.  A half hour later I was finally able to drag her out of the water, but not without getting completely soaked in the process.

I would like to say I learned a lesson, but with another puppy in the household and a lot of beach time in our future, it’s likely we will have two pups who are obsessed with rocks.  But I do think–and this is the point of this story–that being aware of the possible outcomes relatively simple decisions or actions can have is incredibly critical. It’s especially so for people in leadership positions.  

In high stress or busy environments, leaders are called upon to make a lot of decisions. It is also easy to get into a habit of reacting quickly in order to resolve the issue and move onto the next.  I’ve struggled with this myself, and am grateful that I’ve had people around me who were willing to point out the need to take time on occasion before making a decision that could have any number of unintended consequences.

So, if you are in a leadership position, beware of rapid fire decision-making.  Surround yourself with people who are willing to disagree or point out possible outcomes, and be willing to listen.  Had I listened to Kathy, we might not have an obsessed rock hound in the family.

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