Primal Leadership: If a giraffe could change its spots, should it?

October 1, 2020
Primal Leadership: If a giraffe could change its spots, should it?

Is the secret to good leadership the application of new skills or the honing of innate abilities?

Many schools and universities believe it is the former but at The MBA School Of MBA Credentials, we believe it is the latter because the research shows there’s little point painting stripes on a giraffe or even trying to change its spots.

Indeed, the surest pathway to being a great leader is to embrace your spots by preening yourself tenderly (I try to touch up a few spots daily) and getting comfortable with “strutting your stuff” about the home and workplace.

In their landmark business text that awakened the world to Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, and Annie McKee in Primal Leadership, noted that, “emotionally intelligent leaders start by looking inside—at what they feel, think, and sense about their organisations.”

It’s obvious, of course, that what blocks our access to our primal leadership ability are the many layers of clothing and ettiquette that distance us from our heart-on-the-sleeve evolutionary sisters and brothers; the animals of the wild kingdom.

This prompted our faculty to support my concept of Zoo Time.

The critical act of Zoo Time for professional development

At any time, a staff member can ask permission to go to Adelaide Zoo or Monarto Safari Park to spend time with their inner emotional totem.

During these sojourns or mini sabbaticals, a staff member will lay a small picnic blanket on the ground outside their animal’s enclosure, drop down on all fours with their posterior high and their faces upturned to look directly into the eyes of their significant animal other. This is based upon the recommendations of Goleman et al to “start at the top with a bottom-up strategy”.

While prostrate in this position, the animal becomes aware of its supplicant and master (its master supplicant) and thus begins the mutual experience of connecting and observing at a very deep, immeasurable level.

Then, after approximately 10-15 minutes of intense Masterlication (the act of supplicating to one’s animal through self-mastery), the staff member begins moving about on the picnic blanket, mimicking every move, gesture, and emotion of the animal subject.

Our practice has shown that 20-30 minutes of this process is so powerful that zoo personnel need to move in to ask our faculty members to move on; such is the bewildering power of this important ritual.

Upon returning to the School, our staff members are always freshly motivated and keen to cash in their expense claims from their professional development budgets.

It’s palpable, the joy on their faces as their expenses are refunded and I know there’ll be a certain “mood contagion” (as the authors call it), as they mix and mingle with other staff members while in their post-masterlication phase.

Why does the MBA School send its staff to the zoo?

But why undertake the expense of this process when you argue that the best a leader can do is hone innate qualities? What happens if their natural mood state is dour?

These are valuable questions, with premises backed up by science. To quote Goleman et al again, this time from their Harvard Business Review article:

A person’s emotional skills do, in fact, have a genetic component. Scientists have discovered, for instance, the gene for shyness—which is not a mood, per se, but it can certainly drive a person toward a persistently quiet demeanor, which may be read as a “down” mood. Other people are preternaturally jolly.

Be that as it may, isn’t it better than someone who is dour can be the best they can be, can present at work with a “superdour” if you will, rather than being dour in a mediocre way?

Thus, because we all know that moods held by leaders “infect” all staff, I will always advocate for staff having time to play with themselves, to explore themselves, to become at one with their various blemishes and peccadilloes.

So, no, we wouldn’t want a giraffe to change its spots, but we would like to see it smart and proud from its hooves to those little horny knobs on the top of its head.

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