Lion Taming

Steven L. Katz is the author of Lion Taming: Working Successfully with Leaders, Bosses and Other Tough Customers. Katz has worked as a corporate lion tamer for over 20 years; he’s been the executive assistant and right hand to many high-level executives and leaders, including a senior (unnamed in the book) U.S. senator. He intersperses real lion tamer advice from circus performers with advice on how to work with powerful leaders in business.

You may be working with or for a lion if the person:

  • rules the kingdom, but seeks out others to serve and protect him
  • keeps others off balance, while remaining sure-footed
  • is instinctively commanding, but seeks to be understood, and
  • displays a tough exterior, but takes things very personally inside

Katz goes on to explain why being a lion tamer is a good thing – even If you may be a lion yourself. It’s a rule of life; everyone has a boss; yours may be a lion. You may even work among many lions; a powerful CEO, strong board of directors, community leaders, or politicians. The more effective you are at dealing with lions when you encounter them the more successful you will be in your own career.  At the very least, you’ll avoid being devoured.

Lion taming isn’t for everyone; many people simply find it to be too much work, and too dangerous. There’s even a school of thought that says that these powerful, challenging, and sometimes disruptive personalities don’t belong on a functional team. But Katz argues that we need lions. These are the powerful people who get things done – the ones with confidence to run large corporations, create powerful change, and hold high office.

Lions are charismatic and have great instincts as leaders. If you can manage a lion well, you can focus her energy to create powerful change in an organization.  Katz presents some basic rules: never forget that a lion is a lion (they think differently than most people.) Patience, focus, and determination are essential when trying to attract their attention without annoying them. The idea is to position yourself as part of their pride (the name for a gathering of lions) and so become part of their protected group. If you are not part of the pride, you risk becoming part of one of three dangerous categories: enemies, prey, or ignored.

It’s obvious that you don’t want to be perceived as dangerous or as dinner, but some of you will be wondering what’s so bad about being ignored. Let the big guy focus that killer gaze on someone else, you think. The problem with this theory, according to Katz, is that disappearing off a lion’s radar screen means that you’ll be overlooked for promotions, projects, and other benefits that the members of the pride will receive. Your projects may be starved of resources, and you may not get credit for the good work you do. Being ignored may lead to a slow and agonizing decline in your career.

Corporate lion tamers understand the difference between good lions and bad lions. Good lions have power and influence, and they know how to use them well. They respect other lions and take good care of their team. Bad lions do not have control over their killer instincts; they bully staff, abuse their power and create chaos by infighting with other lions. They spend more time defending territory than moving forward on projects.

If you have the courage to work closely with a lion, you will be close to the seat of power. You’ll have the opportunity to work on the most exciting projects and learn how to get big things done. Next: lion taming tips.


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