Our two cats keep us on our toes. They even give me lessons on leadership… though I doubt they realize they’re doing so.

See how long it takes you to glean the leadership lesson from this story.

Jack Jack – my tuxedo kitty, and the chowhound of the two brothers – eats plastic 😬, and likes to claw his little paws up my leg when he wants to get up on my desk (I now have one pair of ruined pants that are the only ones I wear indoors, to keep my other pants safe!)

Jack Jack climbing my leg

His brother Vinnie is the real troublemaker, however. He knocks containers (preferably filled with liquid) off of counters, chews up paper (the more important the better), and has destroyed multiple pairs of earphones.

Vinnie in his cat bowl

Some of his nicknames include Vinnie the Destroyer, Vinnie the Vampire, and Vlad the Impaler. As well as the ever popular, Don’t Do That and Get Off Of There! 

Vinnie’s naughtiness is what initially led me to try clicker training, where you reinforce and train new behaviors by making a clicking sound followed by a treat.

But there was a problem: unlike dogs, who will make an effort to please their people, cats are all about what’s in it for them, so in order for clicker training to be effective with cats, you really need a treat that they really want.

And while Jack Jack will eat anything (and will practically take your hand off to get at food of any kind), Vinnie will literally walk away from most kitty treats.

Thankfully, I had noticed that Vinnie goes absolutely nutso for catnip. 🌱

Not only does he roll around in it, like many other kitties, but he gobbles it up! So when I discovered catnip-flavored kitty treats, I knew I’d hit the jackpot.

Vinnie turned out to be quite an apt student, once I figured out what was in it for him (catnip!)

Since then I’ve taught both our boys to:

  • Sit
  • Lie down
  • Roll over
  • Go in your crate
  • High five
  • Head butt
  • Kitty come

And more!

So what’s the leadership lesson here?

I had to listen to my followers in order to lead them effectively.

If I’d tried to train cats the same way that works for dogs, it wouldn’t have worked.

If I’d tried to use treats that Vinnie had no interest in, it wouldn’t have worked.

As a leader, I had to follow the lead of my followers in order to get the best results out of them!

What is going to help them be engaged? (Catnip, as it happens!)

My cats love their clicker training sessions, if their purrs can be trusted, and they love learning new tricks. It hasn’t stopped Vinnie from being naughty, alas, but it has given me a way to redirect him when he is, and it has created a whole new level of engagement with my team of felines!

What this means for you as a leader people

Now let’s take this out of the realm of cats, and into the realm of people, because if you haven’t guessed by now, the lesson is the same.

Let me ask you, have you listened to your followers?

What is going to help your team be engaged? (I suspect catnip treats may not be the answer for them, so what will be?)

You have things you want to get out of your team, but what’s in it for them, aside from their salary and compensation?

How can you follow the lead of your followers in order to get the best results out of them?

As it happens, these are the kinds of questions I help leaders address in a hands-on way in my Influential Leader program, using experiential activities drawn from the world of theater and improv.

But of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Influential leadership starts with understanding your followers, but it definitely doesn’t end there!

Now I’m off for a little kitty time with Vinnie and Jack Jack.


If you’d like help with team engagement, connection, and communication, to reduce turnover, supercharge productivity, and cultivate a workplace where everyone looks forward to Mondays, schedule a complimentary Team Performance Assessment Call.


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