Pick of the Litter: a Leader’s Tale

By | March 12, 2019

[March 12, 2019] I love dogs. Most folks do, and that explains why people in the United States spend more on dog care than their government spends on poverty programs.1 The phrase, pick of the litter is an idiom meaning to pick the best from a group. Usually referring to a dog litter, its meaning can apply to anything where a choice is made based on an educated judgment.2

When I entered college as an Engineer major at Texas Tech University, our first-year chemistry professor told us on our first day that we were the pick of the litter of college students. He told us also a few other things that mattered a great deal.

Besides being among the “best and brightest” students in the university, he said, we were also the most likely to fail out of college, fail in relationships, and commit suicide. I thought he was crazy and I didn’t like him. But he was right.

Today, we don’t say pick of the litter very much. Another word, one that has ideological trappings, is used more often. If I were sitting in that chemistry class today, the professor would say that I am “privileged.” It matters not how hard it was to get into that class (as measured by past performance).

Leadership and the responsibility that goes with it, however, demand that we recognize the ability to make good judgments as a highly valued trait. It is difficult being a leader. There is no surprise that great leaders are rare; those that can make judgments that turn out for the best. A little creativity, conscientiousness, and courage go a long way to making a leader better than others. They are the ones we would choose from that litter.

I grew up with dogs and learned how to pick the “best” from any litter. This assumes, of course, there is a particular trait that a dog owner would want. My favorite dogs from my childhood were two Rough Collies; their names were Sparky and Prince (thanks to my sister for reminding me). They were the pick of the litter.

Now I have a Yellow Labrador, she was the pick of the litter.


  1. https://www.nbcnews.com/business/consumer/americans-will-spend-more-60-billion-their-pets-year-n390181
Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article every day on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

21 thoughts on “Pick of the Litter: a Leader’s Tale

  1. Maureen S. Sullivan

    Although I’m a big lover of my pets (dogs, cats, and one bird), the message that being the pick of the litter is no insult resonated with my husband when he read your article. I just wanted to let everyone know that to follow the PC crowd today is a path to destruction of the mind. Bear that in mind when you decide to agree with them without any critical thought.

  2. Bryan Lee

    Thank you Gen. Satterfield for helping get my brain into gear this morning. This is the kind of article that I like to read; no negative stuff.

  3. Kenny Foster

    There is a recent movie from last year called “Pick of the Litter” and it is a cute one that everyone should watch. There are a number of lessons that leaders can take away from it. The movie is about, of course, puppies and dogs but it should remind us that we are human, nonetheless, and we have a responsibility to take care of those around us, including our pets. Great story.

    1. Gil Johnson

      Saw it with my kids after it came out in our local theater. Yes, it was one of those feel-good movies that we all should see. Helps to keep me in the positive frame of mind.

  4. Delf A. "Jelly" Bryce

    As most of you know, I work in one of those 3-letter govt agencies. We too are the ‘pick of the litter’ in that we were chosen for our particular skills. There is no harm in it. In fact, we should be supporting those who actually have the skills, determination, and desire to do better in life and to fulfill our missions. That is what makes the world go around. Being envious and full of hate because someone else has it better than you, is a failed personal philosophy.

    1. Greg Heyman

      I agree with you Jelly. Good to see you back reading Gen. Satterfield’s leadership blog. I’m one of your fans. Please write more for us. Thanks.

  5. Martin Shiell

    Keep up the great work, Gen. Satterfield. This article is why I keep coming back to your leadership website.

  6. Max Foster

    Like puppies in a litter, if you want to be picked to head the football team, the debate squad, or lead the class in a song, you have to stand out in some way. It also means someone else will have to make a judgment about you and whether you have what it takes. But also that you have the skills. That is what it means to be the pick of the litter and it has nothing to do with the idea of “privilege” as a term used by the PC mob today.

    1. Wilson Cox

      Good points, Max. Thanks for again making sense and pointing out that there are crazies out there that are supported by the main stream media and their ilk.

    2. Bill Sanders, Jr.

      All thumbs up on your comment.
      🙂 🙂 🙂

      1. Lynn Pitts

        Yes, I think we can agree that Max does a good job of it. I like reading the article and then, later in the day, reading the comments. All are educational and I am often surprised and entertained by those readers who take the time to come here and say a few words.

  7. Army Captain

    Yes, we should have humility as we accept, as leaders, our responsibility because we are stewards of our fate and those around us. Yes, we are also the pick of the litter and there is nothing wrong with that.

    1. JT Patterson

      Correct, and yet people get upset about this fact. A luck of the draw in life might have put me in the middle of Africa as a slave or it might have put me in Manhatten New York as a rich investment banker. That doesn’t mean I blame others for my fortune or misfortune.

      1. José Luis Rodriguez

        Good to see you again JT. Keep posting. You have made my day.

    2. Scotty Bush

      Good to see you on, Army Captain. Thank you for your service.

  8. Jake Tapper, Jr.

    A sweet story. I too love dogs and, in fact, my Mitsy is at my side right now.

    1. Dale Paul Fox

      Same here, Jake. Every morning I read the paper, drink my coffee, and have my dog at my feet. Great to be alive and doing things that are useful (like at a job). Oops, got to get to work! Will read more comments later.

    2. Georgie M.

      Personally, I like cats. But who is to say that my cat was or was not the pick of the litter? She was and she is my best friend.

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