Leading in the Midst of Chaos: Lessons from the Masai Mara

LIVED - Leadership Assessment and Development
Published October 28, 2015

I’ve just returned to work from the holiday of a lifetime; a safari in Kenya’s Masai Mara during migration season.  At one point I was lucky enough to see 3,000 animals take an hour-long crossing over the river; the dust and the noise was incredible.  So, I hear you say, what’s the connection to leadership?  Read on…

a&dc has been researching leadership for the past 8 years and has developed a proven model of behaviours that navigate success in the modern, ever-changing workplace.  Since the Mara Crossing, I’ve been pondering the ways I witnessed the different animal ‘actors’ in this drama and how each of them demonstrated what we know are essential behaviours for survival in what was their own VUCA world.

In our LIVED® model (Learning, Intellect, Values, Emotions and Drive) we say that leaders should constantly seek and apply learning opportunities.  I’ll give the prize for the best learner to the crocodile.  Ahead of the crossing they enjoyed soaking up the sun, but once ‘on alert’ they positioned themselves either near to the rocky bank where the animals needed to scramble up in order to reach safety or in the depths of the river where they couldn’t be seen.  Clearly they put their prior learning into practice, knowing that this will give them the best chance of a good lunch!

Leaders also need to think incisively, deal with complex and ambiguous information and take sound decisions based on their analysis.  The leopard, whom we saw surveying the scene from afar, watched and waited from within the bushes on the side where the animals were crossing.  looking for any opportunity; a vulnerable or wounded animal who would make an easy catch.

LIVED® leaders act in an authentic and consistent way, demonstrating integrity, courage and respect for others.  The wildebeest demonstrated the most values.  In the chaos of crossing, families are separated in the dash for safety.  Inevitably, some crossed but others didn’t.  On realising this, they called to each other from across the river.  Some even crossed back, regardless of the danger.

Leaders need to manage their own emotions effectively, build positive relationships and use emotions to influence and inspire others. The topis (antelopes) were the first animals down to the river’s edge in family clusters; the situation could have made them excited, nervous and panicked.  On several occasions they hesitated, communicated with each other that something was awry and fled calmly to the safety of the bush to await a better time to cross.

However, the zebras lead the way and took the first plunge that everyone else followed.  For sure they exhibit considerable drive over the 4-minute crossing, fraught with danger, which gave all other animals the mindset to push through the danger.  LIVED leaders set challenging goals, take an action oriented approach, show determination to overcome obstacles and act decisively; much like the zebra!

Whilst I’m not going to advocate that a&dc’s next target market for our LIVED model should be the animals of the Masai Mara, it was nevertheless fascinating to evidence the ways in which leadership behaviours are not just the preserve of us as human beings.  In this way, the animals ‘delivered’ a totally awe-inspiring experience.

Read more more about LIVED here.

Author: Karen West

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