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Posted Kane County Chronicle, Tuesday, October 06, 2005

Business ideas go to dogs


In life, Max occupies his days riding herd over the duffers who stroll past his back door on the nearby links of the Royal Fox Country Club.

In his other life, Max has donned a separate persona -- "Magical Max" -- who presides in the pages of a new series of children's books. There, he imparts to kids the values already possessed by a trusty "Westie," who's just like him.

You might have guessed it: Max is a dog. But not just any dog. His owner, business consultant and job trainer Mary Lou Décosterd, sees in her West Highland white terrier the stuff of literature.

She said she thinks the qualities bred into her pooch can be cultivated in children, too. Max's prime qualities, Décosterd said, are a friendly attitude, patience and the ability to appreciate the differences in others.

That's why, she said, Max has become the star of his own book series.

While working with adults in her consulting work, Décosterd said she also saw a need to help children, who today feel pressured by the mounds of information pushing in on them from all directions.

"I believe very strongly, that the information overload that our children have to deal with today is both an opportunity and a danger," Décosterd said, adding that "our young people are quite savvy, what with the Internet, television."

But with all that knowledge, children might not have developed the machinery that enables them to sort out the good from the bad, according to Décosterd. They need, she said, direction in how to process and use the information.

"I wanted to give kids a great little guide, like Max," she said.

Décosterd's first book, "Magical Max Makes Friends," was published recently by her own firm, Lead Life Press, an offshoot of the consulting business she calls Lead Life Institute. Both are based at Décosterd's home in the Royal Fox community.

Décosterd recalled incidents in Max's four and a half years that led her to make him the centerpiece of her stories. They include Max's experiences with the cats next door, who now have roles in the book, too, as Butterscotch and Jellybean.

The book delves into Max's relationships with Butterscotch and Jellybean, and with Nellie the bumblebee and Gracie and Buster the swans. It ends with a brief summary, telling how Max was able to befriend his non-canine friends.

"The book ends with Max going to sleep and dreaming about what he's learned," Décosterd said.

The book benefits from the handiwork of Orlando-based illustrator Mark Cooper and an excellent printing job. Currently, Décosterd said, she's distributing the book through independent bookstores, including Town House Books in St. Charles.

"The scary part of this is the books all come here," Décosterd said. "I've got 5,000 books, and they're all here."

As Max sleeps next to her on the living room sectional, Décosterd explains how this all came about. The book mirrors her interests in adults achieving their leadership goals in business.

With a doctorate in human development and four master's degrees, she has spent most of her career working with management employees "helping these clients be as healthy and resilient as they can be."

Among her career stops was a stint at the Center for Business and Industry at the State University of New York at Dutchess Community College.

There she was commissioned to work with such companies as IBM and NYNEX. Later, she taught classes for a non-profit company.

For a while, too, she served as a business consultant for companies in Europe, then returned to the United States. Eventually, she chose to do what she's doing now, running the Lead Life Institute, first on the East Coast and now in the Midwest.

Among her tasks is teaching how small groups can achieve team effectiveness. She's also concerned that her clients be physically and emotionally healthy. Most important, she said, she doesn't try to mold her clients into a preconceived image of what a successful leader should be.

"I believe that our clients got to their leadership positions by being what they are," Décosterd said.

She also shows clients about what she calls "derailers" -- behaviors she said can derail a person's career.

On the firm's Web site, she describes the institute's approach:

"For us, leadership is a broad term encompassing business skill and acumen, professional and interpersonal power, how we favorably impact the world and how we make a difference. The life piece focuses on attitude, performance, and resilience."

Max says the same thing, too, simply by a wag of the tail and a shake of the paw.

What: "Magical Max Makes Friends," first in a series of three children's books about important life qualities. Published by Lead Life Press.

Who: Author Mary Lou Décosterd, business consultant and principal of the Lead Life Institute, and her dog, Max. Illustrations by Mark Cooper.

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