So what do lionesses have to do with leadership lessons? One of my big loves in life, other than my husband, is travel. My husband and I have had the opportunity to travel throughout the world and one of our favorite places is Africa. We enjoy the wildlife and experiencing the vast cultures of the indigenous tribes.
During one of our recent trips to the Serengeti, we had the great fortune of observing a mother lioness with her three cubs. Did you know that a lioness has just two short years to prepare her cubs for independence? And on this day, she was in the process of teaching them how to hunt for lunch. As I watched the lioness interact with her cubs, I couldn’t help but think how she would make a great role model for leaders.
So what did she display with her cubs that made her such a great role model?
- Modeled Behavior– She demonstrated to her family what was required to hunt. She lead her cubs towards the prey, at first running at a slow pace and then slowing down as she got closer. Then she stopped and looked back as her cubs tried to mimic her behavior; some did better than others. And then she watched each one as they made the initial moves.
- Showed Care–As her cubs moved forward towards the warthog, she never let her eyes leave her cubs. And if one decided to retreat, she didn’t prod them to advance back toward the prey, but stayed close to that cub while watching the others.
- Identified Learning Opportunities– She identified the hunting opportunity. The warthog was small enough to provide her cubs with another time to practice and hone their hunting skills. A larger animal, like a water buffalo, would not have been a good opportunity for her cubs to learn to hunt.
- Mentored-she showed them the way and shared her knowledge and experience with the goal of having them get to the “next level” and become self-sufficient lions.
- Allowed Failure–In the end, the cubs were unable to successfully capture the warthog. Failures need to be embraced as another way of learning and they encourage the cubs to take risks, which will be necessary to live independently from their mother. In this case, they didn’t have lunch, which they won’t soon forget!
- Recognized Potential– One of the primary roles a leader has is to develop her team to their full potential. And on the plains of the Serengeti, eating and being aware of your surroundings are critical to survival.
As I review these, my thoughts lead to the leaders that I have had the opportunity to work with over the years. And, the most successful ones and the leaders that I had the most respect for displayed all of the behaviors and skills of a lioness.
Lessons in leadership can be found in the most unexpected places. And as an executive coach and leadership development advisor, I am always in search of leadership lessons. Whether it be on vacation in Africa, volunteering with a non- profit, observing young children at play, or enjoying a movie there are leadership lessons everywhere.
What leadership lesson have you learned recently that you can share with your team to help them better understand the dynamics of leadership?
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