Leadership Lessons (to Emulate and Avoid) from the Animal Kingdom

Summer is the time of year when we most connect with nature and wildlife. The warm weather encourages us to get outdoors and enjoy all that the environment has to offer. For students of leadership, there is much to be learned from the great outdoors and in this post I will focus on what we can learn from animals, both in terms of what to do and what to avoid doing.

Three to emulate

  1. Lions – Lions are known as kings of the jungle and fierce predators. But lions are also extremely caring animals within their pride. For example, lions are among the more equitable species. They tend to breed cooperatively and assist each other in rearing offspring. They also are more equitable in sharing their food. Lesson: Despite their power and rank, true leaders know that caring for others within their organization is a true mark of their success.
  2. Leopard – The leopard is a highly agile animal that adjusts its efforts to suit its needs. Sometimes it relies on stealth, at other times speed, and at other times agility. For example, it can track its prey on the ground and also climb trees to hunt. It can move silently though the forest and at the same time marshal a burst of speed to close in. Lesson: Leaders and organizations that are adaptable can be assured greater opportunities to achieve success than those that rely on a more limited mindset and skillset.
  3. Geese - In a recent post I wrote about four leadership lessons that I learned from a geese gaggle, including how they willingly engage in disruption to achieve their goals. Geese are also very supportive of each other when in flight. They fly in formations and transfer leadership as they travel. Lesson: There is strength in numbers and cooperation. Leaders who know how to leverage their people and achieve alignment are in better position to succeed.

Three to avoid

  1. Penguins – Certain species have shown selfish actions in their natural habitat. Sometimes, they will push a single penguin off into the cold waters of Antarctic while the others observe if the chosen water is safe or not. If there is no danger, the other penguins jump off the cliff into the water. Lesson: Leaders should resist the temptation to unjustifiably sacrifice one from the team (with their job, with an admonition or consequence, etc.), even if it serves an immediate purpose and benefit. Unlike penguins, people will typically get upset when things like this occur and start to worry for their own safety.
  2. Elephants – Elephants are the “poster animal” of a fixed-mindset. Elephant trainers are famous for sticking a peg in the ground during a calf’s formative years, a peg that it cannot extract. At this young age an elephant learns what it can’t do and stops trying, despite the fact that a mature beast could easily rip the peg and many more like it from the ground. Lesson: Fixed-mindsets reduce our ability. Leaders should make every effort to foster a growth mindset in their workplaces by focusing people on overcoming past failures to achieve new things.
  3. Monkeys – A traditional way to catch monkeys is to offer them some desired food item on the other side of a hole that they can just manage to fit their hand in. When the monkey grabs hold of the item it doesn’t let go, despite the fact that its fist (which is clenching the treat) is too large to be pulled out. Lesson: Be willing to let go of things that are holding you back, even if they appeared good when you first got them.

Naphtali Hoff, PsyD, became an executive coach and organizational consultant following a career as an educator and school administrator. Read his blog at impactfulcoaching.com/blog. Get a free chapter of his new book, Becoming the New Boss, by clicking here.


Naphtali HoffComment