Leadership Lessons From Zimbabwe: Walking With Lions

October 10, 2012 — Leave a comment

Of all the amazing experiences I have been so fortunate to have, across many different boundaries and borders, one of my very favorites is the unique opportunity I had to walk with lions in Zimbabwe.  While canoeing down the river Sabi (avoiding the hippos) was exciting, going on an elephant safari proved adventurous, visiting Victoria Falls was amazing and staying in the historic, luxurious Victoria Falls Hotel was, well… historic and luxurious, nothing compares to walking with lions. Many of you probably think I must be crazy – who wants to walk with wild lions? But this was a fascinating opportunity that offered many insights – and besides, how many chances do you get to walk with lions?

As I watched the lions approach, with only a walking stick in my hand and a pre-brief on lion behavior in my head, I wondered how I would engage these powerful creatures and what I could learn from them…

Here is just a bit of what I was reminded of through my encounter:

1.   True Leadership Fosters Cooperation

Just as lions live in groups called prides, we are also an integral part of a group at work.  For lions, there is one leader of the pride, but everyone has their role and each member knows how best to work with the others. Lions grow to maturity knowing their role within the pride and knowing intuitively that without cooperation they will perish. As leaders, isn’t it our duty to create a culture that breeds cooperation…where everyone knows their role and respects the roles of others? All too often, leaders assume their teams will just get it done – without establishing the appropriate culture and without providing adequate direction. It is the leaders role to foster a foundation of cooperation at the core of organizational culture, with a clear line of sight to the interdependencies within the organization. To be successful, it is critical that everyone comprehend the importance of individual and team roles and is prepared to do their part in order for things to run smoothly.

2.   As A Leader, Know Where You Are Going – Others Depend On You

The lions have something we seem to have lost – An innate sense of direction. It was evident they knew exactly where they were going with every step… and why.  As I walked through the savannah with these magnificent creatures, there was never a sense of not knowing where they were or where they were going – they followed their leader, walking with purpose and intention toward a predetermined destination. As leaders, it is critical that we create a clear path – always walking towards a defined destination, providing a strong sense of direction – if we expect people to know where they are going. Just as in the lion’s pride, the mission is simple and goals are direct, clear, and compelling. If we more purposefully established a sense of where we are and where we are going, perhaps motivation and inspiration would not be so hard to come by?

3.   Understand The Responsibility & Boundaries Of Your Jurisdiction

As the leader of your pride (organization/business unit/department/team), you have the responsibility of educating people on your expectations to ensure a thriving organization. As I walked with the lions, each had their role and each clearly respected their leader.  More importantly, their leader understood his personal responsibility and knew exactly where his boundaries were – he did not cross them.  As a leader, fully understand and get comfortable with your level of responsibility and respect the (formal and informal) boundaries of your jurisdiction – your political preservation will depend upon it!

4.    Close With Confidence

The lion is an amazingly confident creature – it does not even occur to him that he is not the “King of his domain”. If, as leaders, we do not radiate confidence, how do we expect to breed confidence in our organizations? If we cannot breed confidence in our organizations, how can we expect to overtake our competition? If we cannot display confidence in our abilities, how can we expect our clients to have confidence in us? As I reflect, this is a valuable concept as we engage those in our organization, the competition and our clients – we need to see from their eyes, show no apprehension and move with confidence in order to close the deal without fear of attack or rejection.

5.    Know When To Fight & When To Walk Away

The lion is fiercely independent. When a predator enters his territory, the lion will fearlessly protect his pride. In all other situations, though, he cannot be bothered with petty confrontations – the lion never fights just for the sake of fighting. Along the same vein, the lion never hunts for the mere pleasure of it – he is a noble creature, not wasting time and energy on things that are not important to him. It would be wise for us to do the same.

6.    Know When To Roar & When To Stay Quiet

Lions are stealthy creatures, able to blend into their surroundings in order to take stock of both threats and opportunities. Their greatest success lies in their knowledge of knowing when to roar and when to stay quiet, unobserved. Your own greatest success will come as you apply this valuable lesson too.

The animal kingdom is an interesting place. We often think animals are a lower species, but there is much to learn if only we would pay attention. Lions intuitively understand much of what we often fail to learn – when we do, it’s often too little, too late. Let’s face it, we all walk with lions every day and true leadership is an adventure like none other.

What lessons have you learned from observing the animal kingdom?

If you enjoyed this post, check out Leadership Lessons From Haiti and Leadership Lessons From Istanbul.  I would love for you to engage the discussion and let us know how your unique experiences remind you of what good leadership is all about. Please feel free to contact me at  Sheri.Mackey@LuminosityGlobal.com or by visiting our website at www.LuminosityGlobal.com. Check back next week for the next installment of Leadership Across Boundaries and Borders.

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Sheri is The Global Coach, founder of Luminosity Global Consulting Group, Global Executive Coach, Speaker, Writer and Global Business and Cultural Expert.

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