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Leadership Lesson #1 courtesy of Cheetah: Chase your own tail

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Leadership Lesson #1 courtesy of Cheetah: Chase your own tail


Cheetah - the fastest land animal on the planet clocks speeds of 109 to 120 km/h (68 to 75 mph), covers up to 500 m (1,640 ft) in short bursts, and can accelerate from 0 to 96 km/h (0 to 60 mph) in three seconds. When cheetahs run at full speed, their stride is 6-7 meters (21 feet) and their feet touch the ground only twice during each stride. And, cheetahs are the only members of the big cat family which can turn in mid-air while running.

Sound familiar?  Is this the speed of your day?  Are you moving so quickly your feet barely touch the ground?

As leaders – regardless of the industry, size, or strategic pathway of our organization - the demands on us can be relentless, unpredictable, and multi-directional, and they can compel us to move at cheetah-speed throughout our day. As soon as we stretch into a leadership role we find ourselves trying to crack the code for leading strategically, uniquely, and quickly in order to position ourselves in a marketplace densely populated with competition. We talk to leaders in the field, follow the trends, and find ourselves in the endless spin of “think-try-rethink- and try again”…all in search of the Holy Grail called leadership excellence.

Are you as inundated as I am with the quantity and diversity of philosophies, guidelines, model, and frameworks which promise to transform us into leaders par excellence?  It’s overwhelming! I’m right in the mix with you.

It wasn’t until recently, when I took my clients on safari to Lake Manyara, Ngorongoro Crater, and the Serengeti that I realized the most salient leadership lesson was right in front of me! Isn’t that usually the way? Life’s most impactful lessons come from being in the moment.

And that moment came on a picture-perfect day in Central Serengeti. With the warmth of the August sun beating down on us, we spent a glorious afternoon in the presence of cheetah with her cubs. We first spotted her crouched in the tall, dry grasses on high alert for signs of prey, while her young ones wrestled playfully nearby cuffing and tugging at each other’s ears. And then, cheetah gave command to her babes to stay undercover while she, with stealthy precision and barely visible in the tall camouflaging grasses, made her way across the plains.


What grabbed her attention? We don’t know. She traveled onward with the rhythm and grace which are her striking attributes, and then she stopped to perch on a grassy mound. She caulked her head to the left listening and watching with an experienced hunter’s way of knowing.

We inched along in the land cruiser keeping our distance, yet getting close enough to admire her. For the entire time, she appeared to be oblivious to us. She gave every indication of indifference to us as we ogled at her through our binoculars and incessantly snapped photos with our cameras of every move she made. She continued to be on high alert surveying the unknown in every direction, but at no time did she cast her gaze on us.  Yet, I knew instinctively, she was fully cognizant of our presence.

In that very moment, I realized the leadership lesson…

Chase your own tail!

As leaders, we get tangled in a web of complexity – tracking fiercely what others are doing, questioning constantly what we are doing and whether it’s enough, ruminating incessantly over how our actions will be received and perceived by others. We are constantly looking over our shoulders evaluating and looking for affirmations. Yes, it is important to have 360-degree radar in order to survive and thrive in today’s marketplace, but might we have taken this to an extreme? Perhaps we need to return to fundamental basics in how we act and react in the leadership world. We need to return to ourselves….

1.  Define explicitly your personal values - live them fully and defend them fiercely. Spend time reflecting deeply on your values. What are the values you are meant to live before someone told you what to value and how to live those values?  Define them, defend them, and position them as your compass to guide you through the complexities of the day. What do you need to continue doing, stop doing, and start doing each day in order to align your work (and your play!) with your values? Living your values becomes the most fundamental ingredient for your success as a leader – it the compass for gauging what you will and will not do. Imagine how your personal and professional life shifts when your values now guide your decision making.  In living your values intentionally, you lead the way and become a powerful leadership role model for those who work for, and with, you.

2. Be semi-oblivious to your competition - hone cheetah’s brilliant peripheral vision. Be mindful of your competition and their best practices, but stay clear of adopting their ways of navigating the marketplace. It is easy to get locked into the fads of the day; that is, those tools, techniques, and practices that everyone is using. Your challenge and opportunity is to step beyond and re-envision and re-invent. Follow their tracks, but only for the purposes of discovering how you can tweak their best practices and make them better. Through your binoculars, watch the competition, only long enough to find out what they are doing and then put your signature twist on it to offer something refreshing new to the market. 

3. Learn to crouch like cheetah.  When cheetah stalks her prey, she can sit for hours watching, strategizing, and waiting for the right time to leap. Can you?  We have this impression that the making of our organization’s success is the speed at which we move from one initiative to the next. Everything “needs to be done yesterday”. We are in constant flux and, I’m wondering, if we spend enough time being truly reflective about the implications of the changes for ourselves, our teams, and our organizations as a whole. Yes, change is survival in many organizations.  However, I ask you to think about the right speed at which we launch and integrate change into our organizations.  Change means transition for you and your team – it requires a “letting go” of attitudes, beliefs, and practices and embracing new ways of thinking and acting. This takes times.  Are you giving yourself and others the necessary time to make this transition and to make the transition well. In reality, not all changes require cheetah-speed!

And with a return to fundamental basics, we might find ourselves, as leaders, navigating the day differently. We still move like cheetah....but our feet might touch the ground more often.

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