3 Qualities of Leadership from My Golden Retriever

Leadership-Cappuccino-Golden Retriever


Every dog has a different personality, even within the same breed. We have had two Golden Retrievers over the past 13 years. Taffy was our dog who got us to Italy and back. You can read more about her here. Cappuccino is our current Golden Retriever, who will celebrate her second birthday on the 26th. (You think I am kidding about a celebration–but my kids and wife will make sure she is celebrated) She is our Christmas Golden.

Taffy and Cappuccino are very different dogs. But they do carry some similar traits. There are three characteristics that I have observed over time that make for quality leadership reflection.


Many breeds are curious by nature, but a Golden Retriever is supremely curious. Any sound from outside will spark an immediate reaction. Any new object within the home, or even an out-of-place item, will cause a sensory speculation that must be satisfied. At this time of year, a wrapped present sets the stage for sniffing, surveying–and hopefully tearing–to discover the contents inside. House guests are welcomed beyond measure as they must be greeted with all manner of tail wagging and licks. This supreme curiosity may arouse excitement, fear, or great caution–but nothing must be ignored.

The curious leader is an aware leader. 

We too need to be attuned to the unusual noise, the new element in “the room” that could change everything, and especially those we lead. Curiosity leans into the unknown. Curiosity discovers. The unknown may startle us, cause us anxiety, or even fear. But curiosity also leads to possibility. Leaders chase what’s possible. Aware leaders are curious leaders.


I know this will surprise you, but Retrievers retrieve. Our Cappuccino will retrieve from sunup to sundown if you will supply the throws. As soon as she has had her breakfast, Cappuccino will bring you her tennis ball and beg you to throw it in the backyard. She will cajole you, bug you, and frustrate you. But you will throw the ball eventually–even if it is to just get some energy out of her. She will outlast you.

To be tenacious is to not be easily stopped. It is the essence of determination. 

The measure of a leader is what will stop them. By definition, leaders move things forward. Leaders change the status quo. Leaders push against what is to get to what could be. And there will always be barriers. Tenacious leaders draw energy through calling and conviction. They are driven by a vision. If they are leaders of true character, that vision is for someone else’s good. But they are never easily stopped.


Golden Retrievers are nothing if not grateful. Taffy would show her gratitude through leaning on you and her low-level grunts. Cappuccino demonstrates her thankfulness with a gentle lick. It is a very conscious move on her part. Immediately after breakfast, or dinner, I can expect the grateful lick. She is also quite happy to show you her gratitude when you return home. These are social animals.

Gratitude keeps us grounded and humble.

For a leader to say “Thank You” is to acknowledge that he or she is less than omnicompetent. Leadership is about influencing others. It is also about serving others. No leader has ever tasted success without the help of many others. To be grateful is to be appreciative. The more specific you can be, the more powerful your gratitude–and the greater your influence. Leaders who are worthy of being followed are leaders who say “Thank You.”

Are you a Golden Retriever leader?

2 replies
  1. Sharon
    Sharon says:

    These are great leadership characteristics and using the amazing Goldern Retriever as a way to illustrate them is though provoking so thank you for this.

    I have had many labs and goldens in my life and some I would say would make awexome leaders but others are fantastic followers – and leaders often share some of these characteristics. We foster Service dog puppies and they are specifically bred for leadership characteristics and it is interesting watching these little bundles of fluff grow into mature leader dogs who people depend on for there lives. I’ve noticed some of the things that separate the best leaders dogs from ones more suited to be great pets.

    Curiosity is a good quality in a leader but Hyper Reactiveness is not. As a leader if you react to every small alert (“squirrel!”) your team will be very very active but may not achieve the results you are hoping for. Is your startup pivoting so fast that you never settle into a successful market?

    Tenacity will help move things forward but obsessiveness means that it is difficult to make the course corrections needed to respond to an every changing world. As a leader are you open to feedback that says its time to change to a new game, do you know when it is time to stop before things go too far in the wrong direction. Are you like Blackberry who stuck to keypad devices and dismissed touch screens as a fad?

    Gratitude is always the mark of a good leader – recognizing and rewarding success being truly appreciative of the gifts of others and remembering to say thank you. Sadly many leaders take the easy route, saying “good job” without specifics, forgetting to also provide feedback and support when things don’t go as planned, appreciating success rather than effort and engagement. Not noticing the quiet contributions of those who stay in the background more than they should.

    Thank you for a thoughtful post and the opportunity to reflect on some of the amazing dogs who have shared their lives with me and the leadership lessons they offered.

    • Gary Runn
      Gary Runn says:

      Thanks for your great comments and contribution to the learning. I love how you contrasted the first two points with the potential negative counterparts. Thanks too for taking gratitude to the need for specificity. Great observations and principles. So glad you are doing what you are doing.


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