With the right knowledge and technique it’s possible to be both a leader and a friend.

Pets are usually a deep love, or you wouldn’t have gone into the pet business. This is a driving force behind what you do. I love that about you.

What is also apparent is how often leaders in the pet space get tripped up between the love and relationship they have with their pets and how they relate to their team and vendors.

Loving the people you work with is good, letting them into your inner thoughts, foibles and intimacies is not. As a leader of your pack, you must make the hard calls. You must determine what is best for your business.

I remember when I was starting out in business, a coach I hired asked me, “Do you want to be liked or do you want to be a leader?” My reply was, “Can’t I be both?” 

His reply: “If you want to be liked more than you want to lead, you will never lead.”

I have thought about this a lot over the years and having had the great honor of leading associations, teams, groups and animals, I now understand the wisdom of his question and the naïveté in my reply. 

If you want to excel as a leader, then that is what you must be first. Whether you picked it, or it was thrust upon you, (and having a pet business means you are a leader) learning a few leadership skills is not only smart, it’s imperative to your continued success. 

Following is an acronym I created to help you walk that line between leader and friend. I like that it spells out the word: ART — because being an exceptional leader is an art! One you can display and grow in the rest of your career and life.

You’ll see I’ve used two words in each letter, one first for your leadership, and the second for you to bring your own brand of love forward. You can be both a leader and a friend if you know and practice the order, because good leaders are fair, reasonable and people do like and admire them. Usually because they know and display leadership first.

A = Authority & Affection 

This is best described in how we work with our dogs. You remember teaching your dog to sit, right? You only ask once with authority. If they don’t do it, you help them do it. Then you show them affection and praise. 

Let’s review that again. You ask for something once. Expecting that it will be done on your command, then you show affection and praise. 

If you’re having trouble with people doing what you ask in a timely manner, or not following through, it could be as simple as going back to this basic premise. Ask with authority and expectation. This is leadership. 

R = Respect & Responsibility

Showing respect is how you earn respect. Does this mean you hold yourself to a higher standard? Yes, it does. 

You are responsible for the success of your pet business. However you are also responsible for letting your team and vendors know what is expected of them. How well you communicate your expectations falls on you. You communicate with respect, and expect them to be responsible for those expectations. 

T = Trust & Time

Someone recently asked me how long it took to get my horse to get up onto a raised platform only 3 feet across. My answer was that it wasn’t about practice, it was about the trust we have that allowed a 1,000-pound animal to do as I asked. It’s the same for you as a leader.

When people trust that you will do what is right, that you won’t put them in peril, that you have their best interest in mind when making decisions, especially though ones, you will experience better results. 

This takes time. Time to be together, time to move through issues, time to be tested and prove you have integrity and time for you to learn the strengths and weaknesses of those you have selected to be around you.

Leadership is an ART, so is friendship. For your pet business, knowing which is first may be the turning point for you to have even greater success.

Shawna Schuh is a certified speaking professional, an executive coach, master neuro linguistic programming practitioner and president of Women in the Pet Industry Network. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


This article originally appeared in the July-August 2017 edition of PETS+.