Do you stand head and shoulders above the rest?

A rare opportunity to experience the beauty and grandeur of my favorite animal, up close and personal!
A rare opportunity to experience the beauty and grandeur of my favorite animal, up close and personal!

Since I was a little girl, giraffes have been a favorite animal of mine. I was drawn to their sleek, tall stature and spotted coat, feeling a slight familiarity with my childhood face full of freckles. The tallest mammal in the world captivated my attention, this creature was imposing and powerful. Yet, even more enthralling to me, this same being was a gentle giant. She never appeared overbearing, but rather shy, subtle, demure. I would watch TV shows that featured the giraffe’s graceful gallop and in the next moment, an awkward and clumsy coordination of feet and neck reaching down to enjoy a drink from a watering hole. How could one animal combine all these endearing features?

And so it is in leadership. Many conflicting traits are needed for strong leaders.The most natural leaders are agile enough to display these opposing characteristics, often moments apart, hitting the timing impeccably. I recently witnessed a situation where a manager roared like a lion as they responded to a question from a colleague, then within moments, voiced a much-needed and appreciated softer, compassionate approach to the dialogue. This manager was flexible enough to understand what was needed at each exact moment, without losing control or backing down from her perspective. To me, she stood head and shoulders above the rest, able to maneuver through some tough terrain, with grace and grit.

close-up-of-giraffe-at-SafaLast week my husband and I visited the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, an 1,800 acre conservation park located in the San Pasqual Valley near Escondido, California. Wild animals roam freely and humans have the opportunity to get up close and personal. We took the Caravan Safari tour that offered feeding opportunities for giraffes and rhinos. The experience was thrilling, to have this amazing creature, an animal that has long captivated my attention, take a treat of sweet leaves from my hand. (The rhinos were extraordinary and surprising, too, but that’s a story for another day.) We might have been considered intruders, of sorts, as our truck entered their space. Yet we had snacks, and food is often a welcome item for most species. They were accustomed to the routines, providing the exact entertainment that had been promised by the tour guides. I watched the giraffes walk with purpose to our offerings, yet be gentle in their approach. Confident yet polite. Clear in what they wanted yet effortlessly sharing the stage. A leader that stood tall but wasn’t at all high-and-mighty.

Giraffes have been role models for me all my life. And of course, I am constantly learning from Grace, my daily canine guide to being a better person. But I don’t have the monopoly on these lessons and I’m curious: what animal has influenced you? How has he impacted your leadership style? What ways do you seek out more of these experiences and apply them for your own development?

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4 comments

  1. Karen Johnson says:

    Not a specific animal, but animals in general. Because they don’t speak, we have to be more observant of the non-verbal cues. In learning to read animal behavior (or non-speaking humans), we become more acute in watching for signs of mismatched communication. Bright smile but tightly clenched fist! These observational skills help us get below the surface!

    Love your giraffes too!

    • Robin says:

      Excellent example, Karen! It’s so true that animals offer us reminders to be observant — and how valuable it is when we take the time and effort to get below the surface! Thanks, as always, your invaluable insight.

  2. Michelle Thevenin says:

    Interesting … I was recently reminded of Clarissa Estes Pinkola’s book Women Who Run with Wolves. I remember being deeply affected by it when I read it in my early 20’s — I think I also listened to it on book on tape as I love the sound of the author’s voice. Perhaps it is time to revisit it.

    • Robin says:

      Michelle, I just googled the book and it looks wonderful. I’d like to read it. I also just looked up the meaning that wolves can impart and found this: “The power of the wolf brings forth instinct, intelligence, appetite for freedom, and awareness of the importance of social connections. This animal can also symbolize fear of being threatened and lack of trust.” Certainly these are things that women in leadership roles must deal with, aren’t they? I’m going to have to get that book! Thanks for letting us all know about it.

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