Four Leadership Reminders from Nuisance the Cat

It’s been a year since I wrote this post about Nuisance, my cat.  She has proven to be a lovely addition to our household (apart from the occasional lapse in toilet etiquette).  On the outside, she looks like any ordinary black cat, but over the time she has been with us, she has displayed nuances in her personality that are unique to her and have become special to me.  In the workplace, it is easy to look at people as ‘just ordinary’ too, but like Nuisance, each will bring something unique to the collective effort that is worth looking and listening for.


Her name is Nuisance.  She just turned up one day at our window, a little black cat with bowlegs and signs of the stress that spending too long outside alone can bring.

When I first caught sight of her through the window, I thought she must belong to someone but as the days went by and she spent even the rainy ones sleeping on the gravel under the eaves of our condo, I realized she was a lost little soul who needed some help.  Even the “found cat” note I posted went unanswered

So I began to feed her.

Some nodded knowingly when I admitted to doing that.  “You’re stuck with her now”, they suggested.

“She’ll keep coming back and then what will you do?”

To be honest, I didn’t really know.  My experience with cats had been limited to a time when I was eleven years old and that was, well okay, about a century ago.

But she kept coming back and I kept feeding her.

And then I began to feel responsible for her.  She was all right outside in the summer sun and warmth but winter was coming.  What then?

So, after several failed attempts to coax her inside, one day she simply jumped in the open window and claimed me as her guardian.

We have been quite happily learning about each other ever since.

So what has this got to do with leadership or people?  You may well ask.  It may be a bit too much of a stretch but perhaps there are some parallels worth exploring.  Let’s give it a try anyway.

When I think about it, Nuisance has reminded me that:

Engagement is a two-way street ~ We can talk all we like about employee engagement but my experience with Nuisance suggests that no manner of coaxing or demanding can make others respond well, if what you want is not what they want.  Also, had I grabbed for Nuisance and pulled her inside the window without her permission, I would have destroyed any trust she was beginning to place in me. And, I would have been left, if not broken, certainly bloodied from the experience.

Engagement, after all, is not about leaders turning themselves inside out to get peoples’ attention, blinding them with science or forcing them to pay attention.  It is more about leader and follower doing a dance of sorts, one that includes conversation, inquiry and patience.  And it’s about each taking responsibility for their part in the connection, taking some steps forward together to serve a mutually beneficial purpose.

Effective communication involves all of the senses ~ It’s taking a while for me to anticipate her wants and needs, but Nuisance and I are learning to read each other.  We don’t speak the same language of course but she is trying hard, through her actions, to let me know what works for her and what doesn’t.  I’m doing my best to convey my own wants and expectations.   It’s a mutual effort borne out of respect for each other.

In most workplaces, we have the advantage of speaking a common language.  That should make communication much easier.  In some ways though, common language is not necessarily an advantage.  It can make us lazy and less willing to go beyond what is being said to understand more deeply what is not being said and the real feeling or need that comes from that.

Consistency & Continuity are important ~ Nuisance is a typical cat. She likes to eat, sleep, prowl and play at a certain time in the day.  She does not like me to interfere with her regular routine.  It upsets her and makes her feel unsafe.   Many people are like this too.

But we all know by now that change  is an ongoing, relentless and often necessary thing.  So, along with change must also come a large measure of consistency in  leadership.  That means, showing up and conveying a constant message about the future.  And it means providing the opportunity to take a little of what is already working into that future.   In short, consistency and continuity are two things that bring a measure of reassurance and allow people, (and cats) to be open to, and eventually embrace, change.

Love rules ~ Whether we are talking about animals or people, no matter how conscientious or skilled we are, our progress will always be impeded if we fail to care.  Love makes the work worth the effort.  And, it is a powerful motivator.

That’s what think anyway.  What do you think?



Filed under Building Relationships, Change Management, communication, Leadership, Leadership Development, Uncategorized

8 responses to “Four Leadership Reminders from Nuisance the Cat

  1. Gede Prama

    Dear friend, Thank you very much, I was really happy to have been following your blog. I’m still a lot to figure out, and here I can only say that you are an awesome blogger, full Inspiring and hope you can inspire more readers. Thanks and greetings compassion from Gede Prama 🙂

  2. Dear Gywn,

    Love this post!
    I am a cat “rescuer” so your analogies really hit home.
    I think Governor Christie of New Jersey would be well served to take some lessons from your cat.


    • Gwyn Teatro

      Hi Larry ~ I agree. I rather think that Governor Christie has a hard time taking lessons from people let alone cats. 🙂


  3. TT

    Hi Gwyn
    My sister-in-law is the “cat rescuer” in our family. However, I had an interesting experience when I rescued a turtle that got injured in the street. I’m sure there must also be leadership lessons in the life of turtles. Since I was concerned about the turtle’s well-being, I did some research. I found out that turtles’ shells don’t grow adequately if the turtle is not exposed to the appropriate amount of sunlight. When visiting an animal rescue exhibit, we saw a turtle with a deformed shell because it was caught in a plastic ring-shaped 6 pack carrier. Fortunately, the vet clinic called to tell me I could pick up my turtle and release it after it’s back legs were sutured. The vet clinic said the turtle was very curious and doing well. I never considered a turtle’s personality. It was probably his sense of curiosity that caused him to get in harm’s way and also helped recovery. Leadership lessons from the Animal Kingdom: environment to foster growth, adaptability to positives and negatives in the environment, a curiosity about these factors, a desire to overcome obstacles and succeed!
    Thank you for helping me to remember the lessons learned from my pets : )

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Thank you for the turtle story, Terry. Animals do indeed have a lot to teach us. We just have to watch and listen. Thanks for coming by 🙂

  4. Jean Swift

    Very nice! Thanks for sharing.

    By the way, I find most of your posts interesting and thought-provoking – I just rarely tell you so . . . . Thank you for all you do!

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