The idea that leadership traits and behaviours can be likened to the same characteristics in dog breeds was developed from reading the research that has shown that people tend to choose dogs that share their physical characteristics, in ways both obvious and subtle. For example, the research undertaken in the United Kingdom found that overweight people were more likely to have plumper dogs, and those who had a planned exercise regime tended to have German Shepherds and similar sporty breeds. What the researchers were able to show was that we are drawn to dog breeds that remind us of ourselves. It was, therefore, a simple imaginative leap in applying this concept to organisation leadership types and behaviours.

Animal behaviour researchers have long known that dogs can sense when their owner is tense, unsettled or is unhappy.

However, according to this recent research published in the journal PLOS, that sensitivity means that dogs often take on elements of our personalities, too. The more anxious and neurotic the owner, the researchers discovered, the more likely the dog was to share those same traits. Conversely, more relaxed dogs were more likely to belong to more relaxed owners. Consequently, it was not difficult to explore the hypotheses of this research within a leadership paradigm.

With this research in mind it was then necessary to identify key leadership behavioural types so that canine characteristics could be appropriately matched. The work of Lanyon, and Goodstein, (1998) was most useful in this respect. Their work in fact underpinned the thinking behind the construction of the Drake Predictive Profile (2001) and this was in turn influenced by the work of Goleman (1998) who identified six leadership styles or behaviour groups in respect to the emotional intelligence of leadership. Goleman represented these as:

  • Coercive; where the leader demanded compliance. (Do what I tell you.)

  • Authoritative; where the leader mobilised people toward a vision. (Come with me.)

  • Affiliative; where the leader created harmony and builds emotional bonds. (People come first.)

  • Democratic; where the leader forged consensus through participation. (What did you think?)

  • Pacesetting or Visionary; where the leader sets high standards for performance. (Do as I do)

  • Coaching; where the leader developed people for the future. (Try this.) (Goleman, 1998, pp. 82–83)

Using Goleman’s six leadership styles, the human behaviours can be matched against dogs’ traits and behaviours (see Table 1 over page).

The rise of the mongrels
Clearly there are inherent dangers in anthropomorphising dogs’ behaviours and characteristics, but there is a case for looking beyond the pretty, well-bred dogs with their stylised characteristics to promote the case of the mongrel. School environments constantly change and some schools are incredibly tough, so there is still a place for leadership hybrid vigour and its associated capacity to win and survive. In Australia, the working Kelpie provides an excellent example of how a selective breeding, which included dingo DNA, resulted in a superior breed of sheep working dog. Also, in this category is the Australian Cattle Dog (Blue and Red Heelers) that were bred to work cattle. In both cases the dogs were not given pedigreed status and it took a long time for them to be recognised as specific breeds.

Selection panels for school leaders’ positions need have an acute awareness of the school climate and operational contexts. The reliance on ancient formulaic descriptions of what some middle-class academics may have decided years ago describe an ideal principal. It does not recognise the countless variations that face newly appointed school leaders when they arrive in the staff car park at 7 am on the first morning. The Crufts dogs’ show provides a degree of guidance in judging by judging in classes such as gun dog; working and pastoral; terrier and hound; and toy and utility dogs. Therefore, in the last play of this canine metaphor, it would not be unreasonable to develop different criteria and loadings when selecting school leaders against agreed situational classifications and not rely solely on the toy criterion.

Drake International 2001, Drake P3 behaviour assessment survey, USA, Drake Predictive Performance Profile, Inc.
Goleman, D 1998, Working with emotional intelligence, New York, Bantam.
Lanyon, RI, Goodstein, LD 1998, Personality assessment (3rd Ed.), New York, Wiley.
Lanyon, RI 1999, The Drake P3 Profiling Instrument. Research Monograph for the Drake P3 System Communication Survey, Arizona State University, Drake Predictive Profiles Inc.