Life Lessons on Leadership from the Animal Kingdom
By Dr. Janet Rose Wojtalik
I have worked with women and for women. I have joined a multitude of women’s groups. I have done extensive research. I have many women friends. I am a woman. I have spent time researching, interviewing, and observing women trying to understand the female psyche and what makes some productive, happy, and satisfied and others not-so-much. After many years of trying to understand what makes women flourish I have come to the conclusion that there is no magic formula. There is no prototype that dictates success. What I have found, however, is that women can develop certain habits that contribute greatly to their well-being and to their prosperity at work and in life.
These habits can be learned and can greatly impact how a woman navigates the jungle of leadership and life. In my studies I have learned a great deal about how my counterparts function. Here is what I know about women:
- Women are strong.
- Women are sensitive.
- Women rock multitasking.
- Women take care of everything: children, home, work, men, aging parents, plants, pets, etc.
- Women hold grudges.
- Women don’t speak up.
- Women are afraid.
- Women don’t realize their own strengths.
- Women use the wrong measuring stick to judge their own value.
- Women lack confidence.
I have also learned what women do or can do to ignite their drive and passion and to unleash their inner strengths and improve their over-all life satisfaction. I have found many life lessons by studying the animal kingdom. The symbolism I have found is (at best) startling and (at least) interesting. What follows is a brief synopsis of the life lessons we can learn by looking at the wild things.
I have always loved elephants. They are huge and stately. They have a quiet type of power that has always intrigued me. Of course, I have always cringed at the thought of any animal living in captivity and I believe all should be living free without cages or tethers. BUT, the elephant has taught us something about tethers. When a baby elephant is captive, it is tethered with a rope to a stake in the ground. The baby elephant is kept in its place with this length of rope which allows the elephant a limited amount of space to roam. As the elephant grows it remains tethered by a length of rope to a stake in the ground. It does not try to break free although it obviously could if it tried. The fact is, the elephant learned from an early age that it could not free itself and it has held on to that belief even after it has grown and is highly capable. After all, an elephant never forgets.
In my own life and in the lives of women I now know, I have found that we are often tethered. We are tethered to negative feelings about ourselves, our self-worth and our capabilities that were delivered to us as children. These messages may have been sent by our parents, our teachers, the media, or even fairy tales. Maybe they were delivered in young adulthood through toxic relationships or experiences that challenged us. These messages of helplessness and inability grab on and hold tight. As adults this tether continues to restrain us, to hold us back, as these messages play over and over in our heads and in our hearts. Successful women have identified their tethers and have used their strength to break free from them and to move forward away from that which is holding them back and ‘keeping them in their place’.
The giraffe with its long legs and long neck teaches us about the importance of vision. The giraffe’s ability to reach high, to see the layout of the land, and to nourish itself from sustenance that few others can attain is an important lesson. As women move into the world of entrepreneurism and leadership, they need to see beyond their immediate surroundings. Successful, productive women look at the big picture, see the potential struggles and ready themselves with foresight and knowledge to manage what lies ahead. They reach. They stretch. They stick their neck out!
Another worthy observation about the giraffe is the fact that its strength is also its weakness. The giraffe’s long-leggedness and long neck make drinking water a challenge for the giraffe. She, like us, must learn to accommodate for challenges in life. She doesn’t give up drinking water or she will die. She learns to bend and to find ways to meet this difficult challenge, all the while maintaining her balance and grace.
The giraffe also teaches us about strength. When the mother giraffe gives birth, her baby drops to the ground and immediately struggles to stand. Once standing, it tries to nurse. Instead of feeding her newborn, the giraffe kicks her baby and knocks her down. The baby gets up and gets kicked again. Although this sounds cruel, mom knows better. She is teaching her baby to be strong, to get up, to fight, and to succeed. If she doesn’t do this, she knows her baby will not be strong enough to survive the challenges ahead. What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, right? Successful women use their struggles as opportunities to be brave and to grow!
When we think of the owl, we immediately think of wisdom. The wise old owl reminds us to think. Along with the habit of thinking things through is another habit that successful women possess. That is trusting intuition. Women have a unique gift called intuition. I have found that women who ‘trust their gut’ and can ‘read between the lines’ have a leg-up over others. If it doesn’t feel right, it most likely is not right. Do your homework but trust your intuition.
The owl also brings to mind the meaning of OWL in our texting world…Obsessed With Learning! Every successful, productive woman must be obsessed with learning. Always be in the know if you want to be on the cutting edge. Read. Read. And read some more. Network. Learn from others. Do your research. Know what is coming. Know your competition.
Do your recall why miners took canaries into the mines? The other day I was about to turn on the cleaning cycle in my oven and noticed the manual told me to remove any birds from the environment because the toxic fumes from the stove might kill them! Besides being obviously alarmed at what these fumes might do to me, it brought to light the effects of toxicity in our lives. The canary teaches us the importance of ridding our environments of toxicity. Successful women know the value of surrounding themselves with positive, uplifting, supportive people. Toxic relationships only hamper our success and our happiness. Strong, successful women do not continue to maintain toxic relationships. They quickly deliver the message to step up or step out! They join networking groups that are supportive and energizing. They socialize with others who are like-minded and respect and encourage them.
Zebras are amazing animals. Along with their obvious beauty is their uniqueness. Did you know that every zebra sports a striped pattern unlike every other? Just like our fingerprints, their stripes set them apart from each other. Although each one is uniquely different, zebras have developed a habit that serves them very well! They huddle together in times of danger to protect themselves from looming harm. They stand close together, leaning on each other to create a pattern of stripes that serve to camouflage them from potential predators. As women, we do best when we bond together. We are most successful when we use our strengths to support one another. We do not alienate each other because it serves only to weaken us. We need each other to increase our strength and our impact and our chance for survival!
The camel teaches us about conservation. Her characteristic hump allows her to store fat and water and energy to maintain stamina to take that long trek across the desert. Successful, productive, happy women learn from this spirit animal the importance of caring for our inner selves. As women we often find ourselves running on empty. We multitask as we take care of a throng of things at one time. The camel teaches us that we need to ready ourselves for the journey of life by taking care of our mind, our body and our spirit. We do this by taking the time to stop, to breathe, to eat right, to exercise, to meditate, to run, to walk, to read, to just be. Our success needs to start from within. Nurturing our inner selves should be our number one priority.
The tigress is the spirit animal of sensuality and sanctuary. The tigress is a symbol of boldness and fierceness. The tiger tells us to be the master of our domain, to go for what we want. The tiger is in tune with the rhythms and motions of the jungle. When the tiger has something to say it roars! Like the tiger, successful women tread carefully and stealthily to pursue and attain what they want in life. They are deliberate. They think. They plan. They also have a vision. They speak up and they speak out! The tiger is also a creature that enjoys solitude. This solitude allows for time to plan, to review, to regroup, to set new goals, and to tend to the heart. Be like the tiger.
It IS a jungle out there! As women we face challenges and struggles every day tying to manage multiple things at once. Dealing with family, work, personal issues and a need for maintaining a healthy mind, body and spirit can be a daunting task. A successful woman achieves happiness in what she does by developing habits that allow her to flourish and thrive. First and foremost is learning how to take care of her inner self. We can learn a great deal by looking at the habits of the animal kingdom. These life lessons from the wild can help you unleash your inner strengths and give you the ferocity you need to bring you the happiness and the personal success you deserve.
“Your strength gives you the ability to stand alone.
Your uniqueness allows you to stand apart.
Your wisdom inspires you to stand together.”
–Dr. Janet Rose Wojtalik
Dr. Janet Rose Wojtalik promotes female strength as an author, inspirational speaker, and leadership mentor for parents, employers, and women of all ages. Her award winning research focusing on the ecology of female leadership has supported her quest to promote strong women and girls worldwide. She is a co-author of Leading Women: 20 Influential Women Share Their Secrets to Leadership, Business and Life. Her resources can be found at www.drjanetrose.com. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.