Lion-Like Leadership Written By Charity Butler
Animals are intriguing! Valuable lessons on life and leadership can be drawn from wildlife.
While recently visiting the world-renowned Saint Louis Zoo, my husband and I went wild! We spent some time observing the primates: chimpanzees, orangutans, and finally, the gorillas.
From a windowed area on the ground floor, we saw the large male gorilla. He sat about 50 yards from our observation area. Just moments after we entered the platform, the 400+ pound animal then began galloping toward us on all fours, hurdling small bushes and boulders along the way.
He gained speed quickly, while bounding closer to our window. What an incredible site! Within milliseconds, however, our exhilaration turned to discomfort. Discomfort shifted to terror.
The ape left the ground, hurling himself in our direction, like Michael Jordan dunking a basketball from the foul line. While he was flying in mid-air, I was paralyzed in fear. All I could think was, “I hope this glass is stronger than it looks.”
At full speed he slapped the top of the glass with his gigantic hand. Fortunately, the barrier between us was sturdy. We all froze, standing less than 3 feet from the enormous primate, as he glared at us through the glass.
He then turned his broad back in our direction and plopped on the ground.
After several seconds, the mousy voice of a blonde little boy broke the silence, “That scared the crap out of me.” The entire group of adults, all silently breathing sighs of relief, suddenly burst into laughter.
In direct contrast to the angry ape, consider the lion. Rabbi Daniel Lapin in his book Thou Shall Prosper asks, “Have you ever wondered why popular Western culture depicts the lion as the king of the animals? The lion is neither the strongest nor the largest animal. Among animals, he neither lives the longest nor possesses the largest brain. “
He later explains, “Lions are more economical in movement than any other large animal… Even when exploding into action, to pursue and kill its quarry, the lions’ body seems to flow smoothly with no unnecessary movement. You would have to be fortunate even to see a lion in motion. Most of the time he will lie alert but almost motionless… the lion’s demeanor is regal because of his appearing to have total control over his body. That is impressive.”
The lion carries himself in a noble manner. His demeanor displays power. The king, the leader, the creature at the top of the food chain in the animal world holds wisdom for leadership among people.
Learning to lead effectively requires the development of discipline and lion-like control.
Leaders sometimes throw temper tantrums in an attempt to control situations or to dominate conversations. In a sincere effort to lead, they talk without really listening. These leaders become loud, agitated, like the ape at the zoo. They inevitably scare the crap out of people, rarely recruiting devoted followers.
Great leaders are those exuding lion-like self-control of action and reaction. Lions seem at ease until a situation demands action. Only when circumstances compel do they display their harnessed strength and fierce preeminence.
When facing confrontation as a leader, the demeanor of a laid back lion, rather than an angered ape allows for more efficient and effective resolution. Instead of making assumptions and springing into out-of-control action, be willing to ask questions and listen without interrupting. Be patient; only spring into action when action is necessary.
Addressing conflicts with patience is not natural, but one skill can move a leader with ape-like tendencies to king-of-the-jungle discipline: listening. Most leaders think they know how to listen; few actually do.
While others talk, rather than fixating on the words spoken, people usually formulate their own next thought. When listening is appropriate, people tend to talk to themselves internally. This internal dialogue unintentionally interrupts lines of communication that provide valuable information for conflict resolution.
Great leaders should become great listeners. To lead, we must not be the most eloquent. We must, however, effectively connect with those around us.
“Now there are brilliant people who cannot listen much. They have no ingoing wires on their apparatus. They are entertaining, but exhausting, too,” says Christina Marshall of Intrinsic Solutions International.
Christina teaches that we are “happy and free” when others truly listen to us.
Brilliant people are not necessarily effective listeners or leaders. When we become intentional about listening to others, people are drawn to us. The opposite is also true. Those given to temper tantrums or who are simply too arrogant and close-minded to hear from others tend to scare people. Followers want to be heard, and they will follow people who are willing to listen.
Listening is a skill that can be learned and practiced just like hitting, fielding, pitching or throwing, but learning to listen takes intentional focus.
How do we listen affectively? We simply A.S.K.
A—Actually Ask. Those who ask better questions receive better answers. When participating in a conversation, learn to ask good questions. Asking questions that include the word “want” are typically affective and thought-provoking for people. We typically only ask the question, “What do you want?” out of frustration or annoyance. Asking people what they really want will guard us from assuming. Assumptions are dangerous and can lead to confusion and unnecessary outbursts.
S—Shut Up. Stop talking on the outside and on the inside. Shut off the internal dialogue. If you are thinking, “what is internal dialogue?” You just answered your own question!
K—Keep Listening. Choose to continue listening. This is simple, but not easy! Listen until you learn something surprising. Continue to listen, even when you do not understand or agree. Get comfortable with silence. This provides room for others to think and process without trampling on their thoughts. We can only think one thought at a time. If we are disciplined and continue to bring our minds back to the present conversation, we will inevitably become great listeners.
Powerful communication is unlocked through listening, not talking. Wise words are worthless if no one hears them. When working to resolve conflict, learn to listen like a lion. Be still and listen.
In the C.S. Lewis novel and movie The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, when asked if Aslan the lion is safe Mr. Beaver responds, “Safe? …Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
People are complicated and frustrating, but we can choose patience and understanding. Like Aslan, leaders can be good without becoming soft or safe. To lead like a king (or queen!), choose to listen.
Charity Butler is respected nationally & internationally as a pro athlete, writer, speaker, collegiate coach, hitting instructor and Certified Intrinsic Life Coach®.
Charity, a Two-Time ESPN the Magazine Academic All-American, played Division I softball at the University of Southern Mississippi. Upon graduation, she launched a professional softball career that has taken her across the U.S. and literally around the world.
Currently, as a Pro Speaker for Sports World, Inc, Charity travels the country speaking to more than 40,000 people annually. As a recognized expert in confidence training, she also presents at various conferences, colleges & universities.
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