Part II: Are You an Ostrich or a Giraffe?
So, when you reflect on the past year, were you an ostrich or a giraffe? If, much to your chagrin, the answer leans more toward the former than the latter, it’s time to stand tall and start making positive changes. Here are a few ways to bring out your inner giraffe:
1. Look beyond the now, into the future. A giraffe’s height gives it the longest range of vision of any land animal. This keen eyesight allows it to look to the horizon — seeing not only what’s right in front of it, but also what lies ahead in the distance.
How often do you take time to envision the future? During tough times, strategic planning becomes even more important. Instead of engaging in long-term planning only once or twice a year, prioritize it more highly — doing it more frequently and with a shorter time-horizon in order to respond more quickly to changes in your marketplace. Integrate strategic initiatives into your weekly management meetings and solicit ideas from employees.
2. Keep your employees informed. The giraffe has a view of its surroundings that’s unavailable to other animals. But when it’s at a watering hole, a giraffe has to splay its front legs rather awkwardly to reach down and take a drink — a position that leaves it vulnerable to alligators and other predators. That’s why giraffes don’t all drink at once; as some are drinking, others are watching, ready to alert the herd if danger is nearby. Even other animals will take a cue from the giraffes and head for safer ground if the big herbivores are startled.
Does your “herd” know you’re looking out for them? What do you say to your tired and stretched-to-the-max troops when the forecast shows an even more challenging quarter ahead? Leaders have to keep in mind that their responses to developments both inside and outside of the enterprise are always being observed. You have a responsibility to both lead your team away from danger when it arises and avoid sending false signals that could cause distraction and undue anxiety.
3. Stick your neck out and share your vision. Each member of a giraffe herd wants to know:
Similarly, along with warning your staff of immediate danger and short-term moves, you’ve got to keep it apprised of your long-term goals. And, again, that doesn’t mean only once or twice a year; it means regular status reports on how your company is repositioning itself in a quickly changing marketplace.
4. Take action — even when you’re feeling vulnerable. The birth of a giraffe is one of the wonders of nature: The newborn falls about six feet from its mother to the ground! From that point, the calf has only about half an hour to find its footing. And though giraffes aren’t normally sought by predators, a shaky calf makes a prime target.
Like the newborn calf, leaders don’t always have the benefit of preparation or training for every situation in which they find themselves. The giraffe reminds us that — even after a tough beginning and perhaps with shaky legs — we need to adjust rapidly to avoid a potentially much harsher fate.
5. Appreciate your uniqueness and that of others. The giraffe is an interesting mix of a camel’s body and a leopard’s spots. (In fact, the Ancient Romans called giraffes “cameleopards.”) Its body is clearly designed to let it thrive in environments where most of the prime foliage is far above ground. Further, no two giraffes are the same: Each one has its own set of unique coloring and spotting — just like our fingerprints.
Likewise, through their own distinctive natures, an organization’s leaders should be inspired and encouraged to reach the objectives best suited to them. Objectives such as:
A worthy symbol
I hope you find the giraffe a worthy symbol for the practice of leadership — and I certainly hope you’ll be more like a giraffe than an ostrich this year! If you have any other examples of giraffe-inspired leadership lessons, or you just want to share a thought, please do so. And stay tuned for the next post in this series, in which I’ll discuss the “Ostrich vs. Giraffe” approach to employee engagement.
Lynda Silsbee is Founder and President of the Alliance for Leadership Acceleration. She has spent more than 30 years creating and leading high performance teams. Along with the other LEAP Certified Coaches, she reports that helping managers make the LEAP to leader is one of the most fulfilling aspects of her work.