Dogs and Cats and Leadership

June 21, 2016

We have a dog named Ben, although I sometimes think of him as Agent Smith because he so closely resembles a Secret Service agent in the way he shadows my wife, Ana. From room to room, bedroom to kitchen, day or night — whatever task Ana is involved in, you will find Ben on the job, blending into the background, standing guard with unflagging vigilance.

Know how to spell devotion? D-O-G.

Guard duty copy

(Photo: Ben doing rigorous guard duty)

Wouldn’t dogs make great employees? Once a dog has identified you as his boss, he’ll do anything you say. Got a new company sales target? Easy. “Fetch!” you say — and everyone dashes off across the field in dogged search of the stick you threw. Give a little acknowledgment, a little praise, a scratch behind the ears, maybe a puppy treat or two, and they’ll follow you anywhere.

Cats … not so much.

I grew up with a cat. She was a gorgeous Russian Blue we found abandoned in the neighborhood, starving and terrified, and took into our home. We put out food and milk. She hid in a corner under a piece of furniture for days, finally slipping out to steal a few lap-lap-laps of milk, after which she slunk off to her hiding place again. Eventually she glommed on to me and became “my” cat.

Her name, we decided, was Chiquita. We called her Chiqui (pronounced “cheeky”).

Chiqui was utterly devoted, much like Ben. She would slip up onto my bed and sleep at my feet every night. At some point during the wee hours she would slide up to take position by my pillow, where she would lick my hair as I slept. Every morning I woke up spiky-haired, as if I’d time-traveled in my sleep and had precognitive 196os visions of punk-rock hair styles.

In this dedication and constancy, Chiqui was somewhat doglike. Still, you could push her only so far. Take good care of a cat, and she will follow you — but only in the way of cats, which is to say, at a distance and on her own terms.

If Ana says to Ben, “Get in your basket!” he will get in his basket.

If I had ever said to Chiqui, “Get in your basket!” she would have regarded me through a mask of sublime inscrutability and given a look that said, Interesting suggestion. And then walked off, with stiff-limbed deliberation, to go explore a different room.

All of which brings us to leadership.

The truth of people is that we are neither dogs nor cats, but people. Still, Jung said we each embody both animus and anima. My observation is that we humans, each and every one of us, also contain aniwoof and animeow.

Stephen Covey used to make a wonderful distinction between structural authority, the sort of leadership that comes automatically with the position of captain, general, or boss; and moral authority, that aura of leadership that arises organically from one’s own character.

Gandhi was a great example of the latter. He held no formal government position yet wielded such formidable gravitational pull that he countermanded the entire British empire, establishing the largest democracy in the world. Yet Gandhi didn’t have the “power” to appoint or dismiss a single government employee. He had moral authority without structural authority.

The manager of the local shop whose employees all hate him and would love nothing more than to do the opposite of whatever he tells them (you know the kind I mean) has structural authority without moral authority.

But structural authority — that conferred upon one sheerly by title or office — takes you only so far.

You may be in a position where you officially, structurally, titularly carry a degree of authority even if, like the unpopular local shop manager, you do not have moral authority. In this case, you may command the dog in your employees, and they may obey.


But you will never reach their inner cat. You can tell them, “Get in your basket!” and they may slink reluctantly off to the corner you have designated as their basket. But if you could hear what they are thinking? Interesting suggestion.


(Photo of Russian Blue from, by JaneA Kelley)


  1. Adrian

    Lovely lady & devoted doggie, taking a cat nap!

    • John David Mann

      I had to ask both of their permissions before posting that photo. (They both said yes. 🙂



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