We chose the elephant for the analogy of self-development and the development of others, as herds of elephants are always led by a matriarch and are the masters of self-development and the development of their herd.
Their brain is like a GPS and research has shown that the matriarch will often lead her herd to a dry water-hole. Although this was originally thought to be a random act, years later members of her herd have remembered where those water-holes are and have returned to them. The age-old comment that ‘elephants never forget’ may well be a truth, caused by the way the matriarch passes on her knowledge to her herd.
In modern parlance, we may refer to the elephant as ‘emotionally intelligent’ as she seems to know, instinctively, when a member of her herd is struggling and will do everything she can to help. You may have seen television programmes where the matriarch will stay with a dying cub – and will grieve for them when they are gone.
At all three levels, this gives reason to keep a learning journal for the remainder of the programme – and beyond. There are some key questions that can be asked, which build on from each level:-
Level 3 – How well do you know yourself?
Why should anyone else follow you?
What are your personal mission, vision and values?
How well do you know your staff?
Level 5 – Do you know the development needs of your team? If so, how?
What are you doing to support your leaders, to assist them with developing individuals, teams, and therefore the organisation?
How are you starting to capture corporate knowledge – and pass it on?
Level 7 – How do you set the mission, vision and values for your organisation?
How well are they communicated?
To what extent do you and your senior leadership team ‘role-model’ the mission, vision and values?
What are the development needs of your middle managers?
Have you created a ‘learning organisation’?
How are you sharing corporate knowledge – are you preventing it ‘walking out of the door’?
Who are you developing to succeed you?
As an aside, as herds of elephants are always led by the matriarch, the analogy works well for programmes for women in leadership – as there is research to show that many female humans also lead by using more their emotional intelligence. Just a thought….
The giraffe was chosen for their ability to set direction. They have an eye that is approximately the size of a tennis ball and has seven lenses. These lenses, together with the way their eyes protrude, give them vision that covers almost 360 degrees with a clarity that allows them to see a blade of grass move in the distance.
Added to this, they stand 5 – 6 metres tall, so they have a good overview of the ‘bigger picture’ that goes on around them. Due to their eyesight and height, they are not a favoured prey. However, the giraffe is vulnerable from attack from underneath them; as that is their ‘blind-spot’. Many staff have said this is just like their leaders. They set strategy and direction but are often perceived as not having a clue as to what is going on at ‘grass level’ below them.
Other species, such as zebras and wildebeest, will tend to graze in areas where they can monitor the giraffe so that, should the giraffe see something move in the grass in the distance, they can be alerted. Whilst the giraffe may appear to be very laid back chewing on acacia trees, they will react to being disturbed and, when they take a look, zebras and wildebeest will raise their heads; almost as if to ask, ‘what have they seen?’
The giraffe is also one of the first animals to realise that the grass around them is starting to die off; initiating the start of the annual migration to new pastures and challenges…….
Giraffe questions and exercises may be:-
Level 3 – How well do you know your organisation’s mission, vision and values? This is a good point to go back to their personal mission, vision and values and identify similarities and conflicts. One of the primary causes of stress at work is incongruence between the priorities of the organisation and the values of the staff. For example, how many people are saying, ‘this is not the job I joined and I’m not being allowed to do what I joined for’?
How are you communicating and promoting the organisational mission, vision and values to your staff?
How do you monitor that the products – and behaviours – of your team support the organisation’s mission?
Level 5 – How are you interpreting the organisational strategy into tangible actions and behaviours for your team?
How well do you ‘role-model’ the organisational mission, vision and values?
What contribution do you make to the formulation of strategy?
What feedback systems exist / are you putting in place for your senior leaders, to influence or adapt their strategy? (Managing upwards)
Level 7 – How are your organisational mission vision and values developed?
To what extent do senior leaders positively / negatively impact on them?
What is the culture of your organisation?
How do you involve your staff in the development of your strategy – which the giraffe doesn’t!
How do you communicate your strategy? Are you like the giraffe, that starts to move and hopes others follow?
Who are the zebras in your organisation; monitoring and improving performance?
When not on their annual migration, wildebeest herds consist of between five and fifteen members and are headed by either male or female leaders. Female leaders tend to have herds consisting of other females and calves and male leaders tend to have male herds.
The leader of a wildebeest herd becomes very protective of their members and circles around them, in order to keep them together. If one of the herd starts wandering or falling behind then the leader will make a larger circle, to encourage them to keep up and stay tight within the herd.
Occasionally the appearance of a lion can actually assist the leader of the herd, by ‘encouraging’ the poor performing herd member to catch up and rejoin the herd – at speed!
However, the herd leader only enlarges their circle four or five times before deciding that the poor performer needs to ‘leave’ the herd – often with the assistance of predators, such as lions.
As their grazing grounds start to run out, the wildebeest take their lead from the giraffe and start to move. Intuitively, they realise that a small herd may not survive the annual migration and so they form one ‘super-herd’, with a common goal; to find supplies of food and water. This ‘super-herd’ can be as many as 1,400,000 wildebeest – the only animal herd so large that it is visible from space (useless information that, but we found it interesting!).
This is where the behaviour of the leaders of the small herds becomes interesting – and not dissimilar to ‘heads of departments’. Whilst they are all working towards the common goal, each leader continues to circle around their own herd – and gently nudge the head of the adjoining herd towards the outside. The reason? None of the herds want to be on the outer edges or at the back; where they are exposed to ‘predators’ – or, could we say, others looking at their performance?
Perhaps naively, some of the wildebeest want to be at the front of this super-herd, so that they can be the first to the food…. until they encounter obstacles, such as rivers. At this point they try to pause to conduct, what we humans may call, a ‘strategic analysis’ or form a ‘working group’. In other words, how deep is the water and what is in the river that is likely to eat me? However, those behind – especially those being eyed up as ‘under-performers’ – are not keen for those at the front to pause. Much better to take a pragmatic approach; push them in and see what happens! Does this sound familiar?
There are many exercises that the wildebeest can be used for:-
Level 3 – How do you monitor the resources required by your staff to ‘survive’?
How do you identify people in your team who are struggling?
What methods do you use to encourage them to perform better?
How well do you work in partnership with the ‘lions’ in HR to monitor the performance of your staff?
How ‘protective’ are you of your team?
Level 5 – To what extent do your team leaders feel part of your ‘herd’?
How do you identify the strengths of your team leaders?
How well do you delegate the responsibility / accountability of resources to your team leaders?
How do you promote partnership working?
What support do you give your team leaders to improve the performance of their staff?
Level 7 – How well communicated is the ‘common goal’ of your organisation? (Following the direction that was set by your inner-giraffe….)
Is your organisational strategy to be an early-adopter or a follower?
How good is your strategic-analysis?
What support do you provide to your middle managers to remove poor performing staff?
How do you monitor your managers, to prevent over-protection of their team?
What systems have you got in place to identify a ‘rogue herd leader’?
What is your ‘talent management’ policy?
It’s also easy to use wildebeest as an introduction to performance as a precursor to the lion and zebra.
Prides of lions are probably one of the most ‘family centric’ groups of animals. They are always led by males – although all the hunting for the pride is done by lionesses. (Because of this, it is another analogy that often works well with women’s leadership programmes.)
Different lionesses hunt different prey, dependent upon their competencies. Those good at stealth act as flankers, whereas those good at short sprints will chase prey such as gazelles. Stronger lionesses, although not as fast, may act as the chasers for slower but heavier animals, such as zebra.
When a lion initially takes over as head of the pride, he takes a great interest in the lionesses; making sure that their competencies are used to best effect, in order to keep a plentiful supply of food. However, after two to three years, for some unknown reason, they consider themselves invincible and tend to lose interest in maximising the performance of their lionesses. They start showing favouritism to their preferred lionesses. Unfortunately for these lions, they fail to realise that there are others waiting to take their place……..
As a business analogy, this is about the same time that a CEO stays in their office before they are superseded by the young ‘up and coming’. Similar to a new CEO, the new head of a pride only keeps the lionesses he wants and the others are excluded from the pride, together with the outgoing lion, and he ‘brings in’ the lionesses he wants.
These analogies work with ‘managing people’:-
Level 3 – Picking the correct leadership style for the situation.
Does everyone have clear roles and responsibilities that they understand?
How well do you interact with your team?
What competencies do they have now and what are the gaps?
What competencies have they got from other roles, hobbies or previous jobs that you can make best use of?
How do you identify and then manage conflict within the team?
Level 5 – How do you actively encourage the benefits of having a diverse team?
After a successful team ‘kill’, does the leader (or system) give appropriate recognition and reward?
Do you understand the links between welfare, stress management, valuing and performance?
Identifying the need for leadership interventions.; with everyone using the correct style for the situation.
What is the role of the leader as a coach?
Level 7 – Why should we develop people who might leave our pride/organisation?
(Talent management strategy)
Do we have a clear, communicated and ethical People Management strategy?
If so, how do we know it works now and will continue to do so?
Are we a ‘Learning Organisation’?
Do we use our resources (human, financial and technical) to our best advantage?
Zebras have a natural camouflage, if they used it proactively. In a continent where animals coloured black, beige and green find it easier to hide, zebras may stand out like a sore thumb; being black and white. Recent research suggests that these colours have two distinct advantages – firstly, they deter flies and secondly, that lions need a very defined image to attack – and a moving black and white target does not provide such a defined image.
Therefore, if a herd of zebra were proactive when grazing, all a lion would see is one huge ‘mass’ that is not worth attacking. Unfortunately, they only come together like that once they have already been threatened – like a lot of organisations! This is why they are the ideal analogy for performance indicators and measurement.
The other thing about zebras is that they are responsible for the deaths of more lionesses than any other creature. They know that the lioness will attack from the rear, by jumping onto it’s rump; bringing down it’s back legs. If they keep calm and measured, just as the lioness jumps, the zebra kicks out it’s back legs and the lioness gets a kick in the head. If not fatal, then at least the zebra gets another chance – but does it become proactive? There again, do organisations?
Level 3 – Do you actively manage the performance of your team?
Do you actively manage the underperformance of your team?
Does everyone know what success (or survival!) looks like?
Can you manage those ‘difficult conversations’ about performance?
Do you and your team work reactively, or proactively?
Level 5 – What is ethical performance management?
Comparing performance across teams……and what to do when you see differences.
Evaluating effectiveness and efficiency.
How to conduct a departmental SWOT analysis; and then doing something about it.
Inputs > Processes > Outputs > Outcomes.
Level 7 – What are an organisation’s critical success factors?
Using a Balanced Scorecard approach.
What would an external strategic inspection see within your organisation vis. what you actually achieve and how you get your organisation to achieve it?
We use the rhinoceros as the analogy for change as it is thick skinned, resilient and determined. Once it has focus, all of the aforementioned help it to achieve it’s objective. It can however have an amazing turn of speed (over a short distance) and can also be surprisingly agile.
Whilst it’s eyesight is poor, the rhinoceros has an objective in it’s mind and charges……As many people have found out to their cost, woe-betide anyone who gets in the way!! Change is going to happen…..It’s how it’s done that counts.
Primarily due to the actions of mankind, rhinoceroses are becoming increasingly rare; just like effective agents of change. They urgently need to adapt in an ever changing world.
Level 3 – Understanding change within and around you…..
What is your reaction to forecast change?
What is your role in making change happen?
Knowing about drivers for and resistors against change.
Working with individuals and your team to facilitate change.
An overview of the ‘Cultural Web’.
Understanding the damage that you as a leader could do!
Level 5 – Better managing people and teams through change.
Implementing McKinsey’s 7Ss.
Managing change via a project management approach.
Decision making and change management in critical incidents.
Level 7 – Knowing, understanding and implementing strategic analyses.
What is a ‘futures’ exercise?
Conducting contingency, business continuity and scenario planning.
How to build and maintaining a change agenda.
How to ensure organisational and personal survival……..Including yours!
So that’s your introduction to the six animals; Now consider how the Performance Landscape could work for you…
The Serengeti animals pictures are Copyright of Stephen Berry and used with his kind permission.