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I took my dog for a walk recently. When Winston pulled away to chew on the 30-foot ash tree that captured his attention, my instincts were to yell. To pull. To beg him to stop.

Responses mired in frustration, in emotion. I asked myself, how can I cultivate leaders in Fortune 500 companies if I can’t even manage my own dog?

Our pets can teach us so much about the world, often in ways we aren’t expecting. A
big part of self-awareness is understanding how you react to the things that happen
around you.

The reason I’m hung up on how I manage my dog is that my biggest fear is one day, he looks me in the face and barks: “That’s it, I’m out!” And bolts through the door. You know, like in those movies where the main character storms into their boss’s office shouting:” “I quit!”

You’ve heard it before: People don’t quit jobs, they quit managers.

Well, over a decade of Gallup surveys prove it – in a survey of 7,272 adults in the U.S., 50% admitted they’d left their last job because of their boss. The key word here is “admitted.” How many more weren’t brave enough to share?

It’s easy for terms like “quiet quitting” and “burnout” to lose their meaning with their overuse. But given the statistics, that gives each of us a 1 in 2 chance of being the asshole boss and running the risk of feeding toxic workplace culture.

In fact, management behaviors can have a far greater impact than turnover on your employees.

I speak from personal experience when I say that asshole bosses are a public health
concern. According to the World Health Organization and International Labour
Organization (ILO), 1.9 million people died in 2016 due to work related diseases and
 In the United States alone “how U.S. companies manage their work forces”
causes 120,000 deaths and 5-8% of annual healthcare costs. This is bigger than a labor
issue – our bosses are literally killing us.

So how do we make a change? Cultivating a thriving workplace starts with reframing
how we think and ultimately, how we respond. Hardly anyone strives to be a horrible
boss, but just as great leadership is learned, toxic leadership is also learned. We can
break that cycle through self-reflection and mindful choices; it sounds like altruistic
hippie thinking, but it works (and it also increases profitability, productivity, wellbeing, and stock returns).

When Winston was chewing on the tree, I felt powerless, and my emotional reaction
was that I got frustrated, and my behavior was to double down on trying to get him to comply. But by using emotional intelligence, we can dig into the beliefs that fuel our emotions and choose how to respond.

I chose to stop and reflect on why I was frustrated. In doing so, I was able to choose
another path – see it from his perspective. He’d hit the jackpot, he’d found the biggest stick in the world! He was having the best day of his doggy life, and I chose to share in that joy with him. It changed how I walk my dog forever and it can change asshole bosses – whether you have one or are one – too.

Rob Kalwarowsky | High Performance and Leadership Coach 

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