Twelve years ago, I adopted my dog Mika from a shelter. She’s a big brown and black Rottweiler-cross; a mutt with a stubborn streak—who’s also my best friend. My life has changed significantly over the last few years, but Mika has been the one constant pillar through it all. No matter how exhausted I come home from yet another business trip, Mika greets me at the door with enthusiasm. She comes to work with me every day and sits (or sleeps) by my desk through every meeting I have. When I walk around the office, my employees will often see Mika before they see me, because she is always by my side. Through her, I’ve learned the merits of unconditional love. I’ve also picked up a few important lessons in work and life. Here are five that apply to working better:
1. Be loyal (but not to a fault). Mika isn’t the only loyal dog out there. Dogs are legendary for their loyalty. We all know the story of Lassie, a devoted collie who overcame a long and dangerous journey to be reunited with a young boy she loved. There are also many real-world canine loyalty stories out there, like the one from earlier this year about Ciccio, a German Shepherd in Italy, who reportedly goes to church every day and waits patiently for his recently deceased owner to meet him there. Or the heartwarming story of Hawkeye, a Labrador Retriever who famously laid down next to the coffin of his owner Jon Tumilson, a US soldier who died in combat.
In business, loyalty can be a huge asset. I’ve learned that surrounding yourself with a loyal team is one of the key factors to success. I owe a lot to the people who helped me build my company and product to what it is now, I’m proud that some are still by my side today. With their unique knowledge and passion, these team members continue to be integral to our company, HootSuite.
BUT, this should all be taken with a grain of salt. Blind loyalty helps nobody. Ciccio might go to church to wait for his beloved owner every day, but he’s still getting his food from someone else. If I know that a team member is—after a certain fair amount of time—not doing the job they were hired to do, or if a business ally is starting to look out for only his best interests, I will make the tough call to part ways. After all, like Mika, at the end of the day I have to get my kibble—not just for me but for the best interests of the rest of the organization and all of the people whose livelihood depends on its success.
2. Trust your instincts. Mika has an amazing internal clock. For example, every day when the clock hits 4:59 p.m. she knows it’s time to eat...and she will get her food no matter what. It’s pretty incredible, because you can’t trick her to think otherwise. She just knows. She also stays away from people who she deems threatening, as many dogs do.
In business, it can be very important to trust your instincts. Faulty data, miscommunications, even people with interests that aren’t aligned with your own can get in the way of making the best decisions. It can also waste a lot of time to be constantly second-guessing things. In 2008, many investors rejected investing in HootSuite for a number of reasons, but (thankfully), something told me that I should plow forward. Today, I am CEO of a social media company with a tool that’s being used by 79 of the Fortune 100 companies and over 6 million people around the world. Back then, despite the odds, I just knew instinctively that there was something remarkable about the need we were solving for our users, the product and the talented team who were building it with me.
When it comes to business decisions, take time to listen to others, but in the end don’t forget to trust the most important influencer—yourself. As the late Steve Jobs once advised, “Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.”
3. Know what you want and be super persistent about getting it. Persistence pays, and nobody knows that better than a dog. When was the last time your dog sat frozen next to you through an entire meal, gazing up with his Bambi eyes, drool dripping from the sides of his mouth? How many times have you caved and tossed him a bite by the end, impressed by his determination and patience...all for a tiny, momentary pleasure?
Mika is an accomplished beggar and ultra persistent when it comes to her food. She’s the dog who will sit quietly in the background at a party, until the very end, then rush around and snap up all of the dropped morsels of food on the floor.
I’ve often been told that I am also very persistent when it comes to work. Indeed, I had to be when it came to finding the funding that launched my company. But many of my successful colleagues share the same trait. It’s very, very important in business to not give up. If you have a goal, you have to learn to tackle obstacles from every possible angle, and do everything it takes to get to a desired outcome. Oftentimes, it’s through dogged persistence that true innovation and breakthroughs happen. Legend has it that Walt Disney was turned down by 302 banks before he got the funding he needed to open Disneyland.
At worst, by being persistent, you learn something along the way—what to do better next time, and what techniques or approaches work, what doesn’t.
4. If you’re going to do it, do it 110%. When Mika does something—anything—she doesn’t hold back. She eats every meal like it’s her first (or last), she walks every walk with the same enthusiasm she’s had since puppyhood. She’s actually even torn a ligament in her leg twice from overexerting herself at play. I’m not suggesting we should be quite as unabashedly enthusiastic in business, but there is something inspiring in this approach.
Once you’ve decided to do something (after assessing the potential risks and benefits), why not reach for the stars with it? I’ve found that in business, if you strive to hit a place one or two steps beyond the foreseeable goal, the realm of possibilities expands. It’s how I plan things and I like to encourage my employees do the same: push past boundaries and pursue opportunities that they might have initially thought impossible or too big. It’s important to know your worth and set the stage for the future. When I built HootSuite I had no idea that it would one day be used by millions of people around the world, in major political revolutions and by huge corporations like Pepsi and Virgin. My current goal, which I've made public, is to make HootSuite a billion-dollar company. When people tell me it’s not possible, I wonder if I should make it two billion instead!
5. Unplug. Go outside and play. I consider my laptop absolutely essential, but to Mika it’s a totally boring block of metal. If you’re a workaholic with a dog, consider yourself lucky—because she will constantly remind you how fresh air, good food and a healthy and fit body are actually the real essentials of life. Thanks to Mika, I always have to tear myself away from my work, unplug, and head to the forest or beach for a walk.
I answer hundreds of emails a day, but I’m also just as active in things like yoga, cycling and rock climbing. I love the outdoors. I make an effort to ensure that I’m not stuck in an office staring at a screen for hours (or days) on end.
With technology penetrating our lives and jobs more than ever, it’s easy to be online and working 24-7. But it’s very important to regularly de-stress and refresh your mind and body. In fact, there’s a lot of research that suggests exercise can even improve productivity.
So no matter how busy (you think) you are, turn off your digital devices for a bit, get outside and run your heart out. Take it from Mika—you’ll have a better night’s sleep if you do.
My canine sidekick Ocean and I have many tips to share that we've developed through the years volunteering together.
What lessons have you learned from your dog in life and business?