Leadership Perspectives

You are a Leader, but are You a Lion?

March 6, 2012
Sabi Sands, ZA

Morning at Sabi Sands, South Africa

A recent article that I had published in the Griffin Report started with “Every morning in Africa, a Gazelle wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the fastest Lion or it will be killed. Every morning a Lion wakes up. It knows it must outrun the slowest Gazelle or it will starve to death. It doesn’t matter whether you are a Lion or a Gazelle … when the sun comes up, you’d better be running.”

The quote is best known for its ubiquitous presence on everything from motivational posters to coffee cups marketed to leaders and aspiring leaders.  The implication is that if you want to be successful you better be running … and running fast.

While the saying evokes a persuasive image, I think it does a disservice.  The problem is that human beings are not lions or gazelles.   We have supposedly evolved.   We are not on the African plain where every creature is either hunter or prey.

Sometimes, as leaders, we act as though we are.  And that behavior gets leaders into trouble. It endangers our relationships, harms trust and collaboration, and – although this is a subject for another day – is just plain bad for our health.

There is a second problem with the saying.  Even lions and gazelles don’t spend their whole day running.  Lions are, in fact, quite lazy (think of your pet cat if you have one).  They spend most of their time sleeping, bathing, stretching, sunning, and engaging in courting rituals.

Yes, every few days lions do kill something, because they ARE on the African Plain and they have to hunt to eat and survive.  And those courting rituals sometimes require them to engage in fierce battles.  But they balance activities that require a rush of adrenaline with other more sedate activities that allow them to refresh and restore their systems.  It’s all part of the balance that is required for an effective life.

If you would like to see my article for restaurant leaders in The Griffin Report, click here.

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