Dogs in top jobs


(more on Cats and Dogs)

The leader of an organisation sets the direction, the grand plan that everyone works to. It almost goes without saying: the leader of any organisation is a cat. Anything else would be madness.

That's what I thought, then I started noticing exceptions:

Case 1: Linus Torvalds, leader of the free world. Here's a typical interview. He doesn't really set directions, just goes with the flow. When you think about it, his main job isn't leading, it's accepting or rejecting patches -- and that's pure dog-role.

Case 2: Martin Seligman, creator of the positive psychology movement. I'm currently re-reading Authentic Happiness. Here's a bit of self reflection on how he ended up head of the American Psychological Association:

I am running against two political pros: Dick Suinn, the ex-mayor of Fort Collins, Colorado, psychologist to Olympic athletes, and chair of the Colorado State University Psychology Department; and Pat Bricklin, the candidate of the majority therapist block of APA, an exemplary psychotherapist herself, and a radio personality. They both spent much of the last twenty years at APA conclaves in Washington and elsewhere. I was an outsider who was not invited to these gatherings. In fact, I wouldn't have gone, even if I had been asked, because I have a shorter attention span than my kids when it comes to committee meetings. Both Pat and Dick have held almost every major APA-wide office, except the presidency. I have held none. Pat and Dick had each been president of a dozen groups. The last presidency I can remember ... is of my ninth grade class.

Two things occur to me regarding Dr. Seligman. First, professionally all psychotherapists and psychiatrists have to be cats, the respect and obedience of their patients is an important part of their therapeutic methods (it's an interesting question as to whether a therapist could play dog... a topic for another day). Second, a major part of his job is presumably evaluating grant applications, looking at the available ideas and picking which are good. So not only would having a cat in charge grate horribly with the members of the APA who are all cats themselves, a big part of the job is dogish filtering (much like Linus).

Case 3: Cory Doctorow, author and blogger extrordinaire. Finger in countless pies, a Leader of the Revolution. But in his novels the main character tends act dogishly, pushed around by circumstance and usually a bit of a loser. I suspect there's a healthy dose of autobiography involved.

So, dogs in charge, and doing damn fine jobs of it. The more I look at it, the more I think classical conceptions of dominance are badly wrong. We've been looking for the wrong qualities in people we give power to. All this time. Giggle. Sob.

I've also been reflecting a bit on my own leaning. I've lead a few software projects. Heh, back in primary school I got people building cubby houses. So my presumption was that I'm a cat. But thinking back over it, what tended to happen was that I would start working on something on my own. My Cat and Dog theory says nothing about people on their own. Later other people would join in... and I'd discover once more what a crap leader I actually was.

Maybe now I understand leadership a bit better, I could do a better job of it. The trick, it seems, is not to try to take charge.

Update 6/4/04, after further thought: I'm definitely a cat by nature, not so much because I lead as because I am so bad at following. When I was running Circle I should have been more doggish, the things that pissed people off were catish behaviour. The Circle dev list was a mixture of cats and dogs, but the people who actually contributed code were, with only one exception, cats.