My Instagram followers know that I have a dog named Baxter, about whom I frequently complain that he hogs the TV remote and somehow manages to take over 90% of the bed despite being 10% of my size.
Baxter is a rescue dog. When we got him from the adoption agency a little over five years ago, he was in rough shape. He was extremely timid, he flinched often anytime anyone made a somewhat sudden movement or a loud noise, and he never made any noises himself. In fact, the first time he actually barked, about a month and a half after we took him home, my wife and I looked at each other incredulously and asked, "Was that the dog?"
Needless to say, Baxter has become a much more well-adjusted member of the family and society over the past few years. He seamlessly interacts with everyone in our house and isn't shy about letting us know what he wants, either through pawing or cute looks or random noises that he makes. He easily injects himself into situations where other people are around – to the point where there's a big dent in our couch in between two cushions where Baxter has molded himself a spot.
Most importantly, he has found his voice, and he barks often... at random passers-by, at other dogs, at people coming in the front door, at the garbage cans at the end of our driveway, at packages left on our stoop... the barking has become endless.
That said, my favorite sound ever is the one Baxter makes when he curls up into a dogball next to me in bed at night. After doing his usual thing where he makes sure he picks the absolute best spot and has made that spot into the most comfortable it can be, he flops down against me and gives off this sigh, as if he's deflating and releasing all of his cares in the world. It's this sigh that I look forward to every day, because I know that it's a sigh of trust, a sigh where he's coming down off being so aware and protective of everything all day, and he's in a place with his human that he loves and knows will defend him and take care of him while he sleeps.
I've seen the equivalence of this in humans as well, especially in business. Sadly, there are still instances where managers or corporate cultures emotionally browbeat employees into submission, where employees can lose their voice, their enthusiasm and their will to contribute. Without the confidence to speak up and knowledge that their place is supported, employees can retreat into a shell.
However, once back in a supportive, encouraging environment, their voices and ideas can bloom again, giving rise to new lines of thinking and collaboration that weren't possible. I've seen instances where employees were brought out of strict, authoritarian regimes into areas under encouraging leadership, and while the change took some time to filter into their work culture, they eventually began to understand the full scope of what they could do and accomplish with support. Previously written off as mediocre drones, they once again began to flourish with the backing of their teams and managers. The contributions these employees were able to make helped lift the team, the organization and the company and truly add value across the board.
It all comes down to the level of trust that leaders and employees are able to extend to each other, because with trust comes appreciation. As leaders, it's imperative to find opportunities to engender trust since they will form the foundations that eventually lead to those moments like the ones I feel when Baxter sighs contentedly at me every night. Those are the rewards that leadership brings, and while I would never expect an employee to lick my face the way my dog does, an employee can still generate the same kind of emotional reward.
This post was inspired by the podcast Twenty Thousand Hertz, a podcast about the most recognizable and interesting sounds and the stories behind them. During a recent episode, host Dallas Taylor asked listeners to submit stories of their favorite sounds.