At the outset, I will specify that this started as a bit of banter around the Chief of Army’s Reading List and how leadership lessons can be found almost anywhere. After three months at home with a newborn, in-depth reading has been put on the backburner.
Hairy Maclary (HM) is most definitely not on the Chief of Army Reading List. However, as I began to read my new son the entire HM anthology (yes, all 20-something of them), I realised that there are indeed significant lessons to be taken away from the adventures of the scruffy little black dog. HM presents various questions regarding the philosophy of human nature, specifically the philosophy of emotion and feelings.
It addresses the most basic form of irrational fear and raises questions about the nature of emotion itself. It also explores how leadership truly is the art of influence and highlights the importance of future planning.
The anthology opens when HM decides it is time to go for a walk. After he leaves his home and starts exploring down the main street, HM is joined by a variety of other dogs of all different shapes and sizes. They continue on their journey until they are brought to a sudden halt by a tough tomcat who sends them all running and howling in fear back to their homes, where HM hides in his bed.
When HM and his crew had an unplanned and wholly unexpected encounter with Scarface Claw, this triggered a fear response. Unprepared for a skirmish and with heightened emotions, they retreated. The power of emotions comes from their constant presence in our lives and our general lack of control over them. It is important then that we do not ignore them, but instead discuss and talk about them in order to gain a better understanding of one of the main driving forces behind human nature.
Why do we feel the way we do? What purpose does emotion serve in our lives? Why do we sometimes have such a complete lack of control over the way we feel? These are questions that are difficult, if not impossible, to answer in a definitive way. However, by exploring our own emotional state we are better able to deal with ‘big feelings’ like fear and anger as they come up. From this we can develop coping strategies, de-escalation tactics, and other tools to help. This allows us to function better, lead authentically, and grow as a person.
So, in this way HM teaches us the power of reflection and emotional regulation.
In this short adventure alone, we see how even the smallest and scruffiest of dogs was able to influence a whole pack to follow on his “mission” (the walk). By being present in the moment, having a vision, and walking with purpose HM was able to create a strong followership without coercion, bullying, or negative tactics. He created an environment where even skittish Bitzer Maloney (who is all skinny and ‘boney’) went along for the journey. He inspired confidence and allowed each member of the pack to work to their ability or skill level (think Schnitzel Von Krumm with the very low tum).
HM led from the front and was able to create a followership by doing – he never asked more from his pack than what he was able to achieve himself. He understood the nature of the task and obstacles as he was able to scale them himself first. He was able to test boundaries and took ownership for the ultimate failure of the mission upon encountering Scarface Claw (the toughest tom in town) by not allocating blame to his team or pack.
While we cannot be prepared for every eventuality, HM and his encounter with Scarface Claw are a gentle reminder that pre-planning and analysis lead to better mission outcomes. Had HM war-gamed possible actions for aggressive feline encounters, he may have been able to better manage his fear response. Some route analysis may have prevented them from an encounter at all. It is clear that HM would benefit from debrief, simulation training, and pre-planning.
While that scruffy little black dog captured children’s hearts all around the world, there are some leadership lessons to be taken away for every adult who has to read about him.
So how about a petition for inclusion into the Chief of Army’s Reading List?