Thoughts on Leadership: Leading Like a Dog

By Gino Blefari

This week my travels find me starting on Sunday with a flight to Orange County to attend the Mike Ferry Management Retreat in Huntington Beach taking place on Monday and Tuesday. On Monday I also conducted my regular WIG calls and on Tuesday, I participated in the Berkshire Hathaway Energy call. On Tuesday afternoon, I met with the team to help plan the upcoming HomeServices of America top performer’s event. On Wednesday I had morning meetings in San Diego then flew home to Northern California in the afternoon. Today, I worked from home as I had a solar panel installed in my home in Los Altos. (Sustainability is key!)

For today’s post, I want to talk about dogs. Well, people really, but first, let’s talk about dogs. According to the latest survey from the American Pet Products Association, pet ownership in the U.S. rose to an all-time high – 70% of U.S. households – in 2020. Why? Because pets are the perfect companions. No matter if we’ve been away from them for five minutes, five hours or five days, they’re exuberantly excited to greet us.

But for me, it’s not just pets, it’s dogs that are the greatest pals we could ask for. One of the best feelings is coming home from a trip, pulling up to the front door in my Uber, andseeing my dog, Kona, through the window, wagging her tail as I walk up to the house and step inside.

It makes you feel so good, doesn’t it? You just feel so loved by this animal in front of you that your heart could almost burst from the joy of it all. That kind of enthusiasm got me thinking about one of my mentors, Bob Moles, who has the same ability to make you feel welcomed and happy every time he sees you. It’s why I believe one of the rarest but most incredible qualities of a leader is their ability to be like a dog.

I met Bob when I was in the third grade (we played little league together and his dad was our coach), so it’s remarkable that we ended up working together and that he played a defining role in my real estate career. They say you are the sum of everyone you meet, and I have truly been blessed to have met Bob when I did because our fortuitous friendship shaped the entirety of my professional life.

Bob was one of my earliest mentors and he gave me a great deal of confidence in my career. As a coach and a mentor, he had confidence in me, and we all know when your coach believes in you unequivocally, you tend to believe in yourself, too.

Let’s travel back to 1988 and recall a story that perfectly encapsulates Bob’s influence on my life. At the time, I had just become manager of a Contempo Realty office – Bob was president of Contempo Realty and his father was the chairman. I was a hard-charging manager, making all sorts of changes that I felt would have a positive impact on the culture, productivity, and profitability of the office. I got a new copy machine. I extended the office hours and announced the office would be open on Saturdays and Sundays, with a receptionist ready to greet prospective clients. I changed the way we were answering the phone. I changed the way we greeted people. I required attendance at office meetings. I established a dress code for the gentlemen to wear a tie and crisp, white shirts. Mediocrity or stagnation was not tolerated. Excellence was expected.


And while the changes were created with improving the office environment and experience in mind, change can be a tricky thing. Most people don’t like it. As you might suspect, the office was up in arms about this new manager who was making all these changes to how things used to be.

The office was so upset about the changes, they all got together and arranged a lunch with Bob Moles to explain their agitation with my new style of management. After the lunch was over, I went to Bob and asked him how it went. He said, “Well, they had some issues with your management style.”

I replied: “So, what should I do?”

Bob responded, “I don’t care if you need to change out every single agent in that office. You are the leader and I trust you’ll do a great job.”

It was that kind of support that gave me the confidence I needed to  know my decisions were solid. If a leader like Bob believed in me, I knew I could believe in myself. In fact, if I was ever having a tough day or a problem I couldn’t solve, I’d give Bob a call and immediately that problem seemed fixable or that tough day got brighter. It reminded me about what I later learned from Og Mandino, author of the bestselling book, The Greatest Salesman in the World  . Og said pain is like having a pebble in your shoe; it seems so harsh at the time, but you are surprised when you remove your shoe and find only a grain of sand.

When we sold Contempo Realty and Bob became the president of Century 21, I stayed on as the president of Contempo. I called him every single day for the next seven years at 6:30 in the morning to get his advice. His counsel was that important to me and my leadership journey.

I can still remember we’d have these monthly all-company meetings at Contempo and whenever I came into the room, Bob would be waiting to shake my hand and greet me like I was the only person there. I went on to observe him do the very same thing to every team member who joined the meeting. It made them feel special, the kind of special you experience when you walk through the door and are greeted by your beloved dog. The kind of special I feel every time I step out of the car and see Kona’s tail go crazy at the very sight of me. It’s why I say, a leader who can have that dog-like enthusiasm is a special kind of leader to admire and revere.

Bill Clinton was famous for possessing this kind of charisma. In a 2014 article, Fast Company,reporter Stephanie Vozza noted that Bill Clinton has “legendary focus and can make anyone feel like the most important person in the room.”

Clinton’s political arch-nemesis, Newt Gingrich, even commented on this distinct ability, describing the former President as “one of the most charming and effective people I’ve ever negotiated with.”

So, what’s the message? On the opposite end of this happiness spectrum, when you ignore someone, or when you make them feel small, it’s one of the most awful emotions anyone can experience. But if you can uplift them –  if, like Bob Moles, Bill Clinton and my sweet dog, Kona, you can focus on how happy you are just to see them step in your direction – then you’ve got a truly special ability to connect with your team in a way not many people can. To this day, Bob is one of the few people who regularly gets together with his high school friends; and if you stop by his house, he always makes you feel welcome. It’s not often I say leadership is for the dogs but in this one instance, it absolutely is.

P.S. If you’re reading this on Friday, it’s Bob Moles’ birthday. Happy birthday, Bob, and thanks for inspiring me all these years.

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