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The Rough Notes Company Inc.



December 28
07:12 2018


Sarah’s Story:  Three Lessons Learned

Accept, adapt and persevere if you want to achieve outstanding outcomes

By Lisa H. Harrington

Sarah came to us unexpectedly and her story is full of lessons about how to live life and be a great leader. She didn’t make it into my book, because we had just met her as the second edition was published.

Her story is inextricably connected to Toby, our Australian Cattle Dog-Great Pyrenees mix. As I explained in my October 2018 Rough Notes article, when we got Toby, we expected him to be between 35 and 40 pounds. He topped out at 88. Surprise! When he had reached around 55 pounds, we decided we’d better get him a playmate who could run with him, since Caleb—the only other dog we had at the time—is a tiny 14 pounds and not a particularly suitable playmate.

[T]he best employees live in the land of Ugottawanna. The desire to be better makes more of a difference in their success level than do most other factors.

My husband Paul and I were pondering this situation when, one evening, we saw a Facebook post from Toby’s original rescue group.


This rescue group is an in-home operation called DASH Dog Rescue, and it’s run by two women, Sara and Tobi. When the Facebook post appeared, Sara and Tobi had 16 foster dogs between them, staying in their two houses. Their post was a particularly anguished cry for help because Sara’s house had just burned down that night. They needed help housing some of the fosters because more were due to arrive the next week.

We went ahead and accepted Sarah sight unseen—something we’d never done before. I loved her picture, her adorable smiling face, and her story. Paul and I agreed to foster her until the situation settled down.

Toby is fabulous with other dogs, and the plan at that time was to continue to foster various DASH Dog rescues. It’s said that you help more dogs by fostering than adopting.

Zara, as she was known in rescue before we got and renamed her, had been living as a street dog in Waco, Texas, her entire life. When I drove to Tobi’s to pick her up, she’d only been inside a house for about 30 minutes all told. The rest of her life had been on the street or in the shelter in Waco.

We weren’t sure how she’d handle this change, but we have lots of experience with dogs; I’ve lost count of how many, but it’s well into double digits. We quickly found that Sarah was reasonably smart and, more important, she very much wants to please. She was a fast learner at puppy school. And she’s a well-behaved dog, answering all the usual commands, and she is incredibly loyal.

A chance

This is the first lesson. No matter what someone’s background is, they deserve a chance to learn and grow. As long as they have the desire to learn and adjust, things can work out very well. A friend of mine once said that the best employees live in the land of Ugottawanna. The desire to be better makes more of a difference in their success level than do most other factors.

It’s important to consider the fit among staff, too. Culture is an overused buzzword these days, but it’s important enough that you want to make sure the concept is front and center. As you work to keep up with the speed of change, even in our industry, which some describe as slower, you likely will find that having a strong positive culture will keep your focus on the goal. More important, it will keep your crew motivated and allow for new and different perspectives that can keep things fresh and prevent you from having to reinvent things over and over.

Salt and pepper

Back to Sarah.

When we introduced her to Toby, we were amazed to find that they were two peas in a pod, salt and pepper, peanut butter and jelly. They were so different, but so great together. Both dogs are fluffy, and they’re matched physically. They’re the same height, and Toby, with a dozen-pound advantage, is wider—more like an offensive lineman—while Sarah is more lean and graceful.

They fell in love immediately. Within a few days, we knew they should stay together. At that point, we realized we were foster failures. We also knew that, if we kept Sarah, we would not be able to continue to foster other dogs.


That’s the second lesson: Plans are good, but adaptability is important, too. You may think you have done all the research you need to do before launching a new product, creating a new service, or entering a new market. But new information might be just around the corner! I am a staunch advocate of strategic planning and for years have hosted workshops to help many businesses build their plans. (I’m sorry to report that 80% of companies do not have a strategic plan, but that’s another story.)

A good strategic plan is a high-level document that is well defined and gives you a great view of what the future can hold. That said, if you are open to change, you could achieve an even better result than you thought you would by implementing your original plan as designed. Not only can your situation change, but so can the market or your service providers and vendors.

The ability to flex comes with a strong cultural understanding of your core values, your vision, and the mission you are supporting. As long as you stay “between the lines” of your vision and values, unexpected change can be a positive event that is invigorating to your crew.

For us, a personal mission to own, help and love animals was accomplished by adopting Sarah, even though the original plan was fostering.

Now, three years later, DASH Dog Rescue is thriving and helping more dogs than ever. Sara and Tobi (the humans whose names inspired our canine duo’s monikers) are still out there saving the dogs, and we do our part when we can financially or by helping spread the word on social media about the latest batch of dogs needing homes.


That’s the third lesson, and we know it well in the insurance business: Even when disaster strikes, we keep pressing on, fighting the good fight, and sticking to our mission. If we do, there will be many rewards for us on the other side. It’s easier sometimes to quit, and certainly there are times when you should. But usually, the pressure and fight to maintain your mission will create resolve and determination and everyone will be stronger for it, much like pressure creates diamonds. Tough times challenge our resolve and test our commitment to the path we’ve chosen. The lessons we learn pulling through tough times make us better, more efficient, and increase confidence. Never give up!

You can be better, lead better, and create a better world around you!

The author

Lisa Harrington, CPCU, AAI, is the author of Taking in Strays, Leadership Lessons from Unexpected Places, a book from which many of her articles are adapted. She is CEO of Sapphire Enterprises LLC. Connect with her at

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