Leadership lesson from a camel

Leadership is a very often used term these days.  People talk about it,  consultants prepare plans for building it,  companies invest huge amounts of money to help their leaders to develop it. And at the end of the day, we still say that we need to do more, we need to invest more,  we need more time to build that magic skill that will let us direct others trough their hearts, thoughts, attitudes, and values.

According to a Boston consulting group research,  conducted in more than 68  countries, companies have invested more than 890 billion dollars in programs and individual plans to develop leadership skills in 2015. According to the same research, this invested amount of money has generated ROI  for 1,1 trillion dollars during the next year. Compared to the population of these 68 countries,  divided by the number of citizens living in them, this counted in less than 20 dollars a month ROI for the whole population.  

But despite that companies around the world are not planning to minimize their investments in leadership.  They just search for a better ROI  for these investments.

One of the theories I like about leadership has been distributed in the last two millennials by the ancient Greeks and has been used for the model presented by Stephen Covey in his book “The 8th Habit”. It is the theory of free choice on how to show your skills to be a leader in a difficult or demanding situation. Dr. Covey calls it the stimulus-free space-reaction dependence. The Greeks have described such behavior first when they met a caravan of camels while traveling to  Egypt.

The story is explained in one of the Roman philosophers Seneca letters to his friend ……

It goes like that: A group of Greeks has watched camels behavior.  They have seen that when the camel owner gives them food, camels don’t start eating it at first sight.  Instead of that, they smell the food and if don’t like it they threw it away. That continues until the guy who’s feeding them finds the food the camels would like to consume.  When he was asked by the Greeks why has he allowed such behavior, he answered simply: “I strongly depend on the camel. If I don’t find the right food, the camel won’t continue to the road. The only loser in the room from that will be me. But If I find the right food the camel will be satisfied and will continue even faster on the road.”

A week after that scene,  the Greeks saw the same guy feeding camels with the food they have rejected by their previous meeting.  Then they asked again what happened that the camels have started eating the food they have rejected earlier. The answer of the guy was simple: “The circumstances.  Where we are now there is no  other option for them,  so  if they  don’t eat they  will starve from hunger.”

This guy has simply explained a theory that is so popular these days that no matter the stimulus it is up to you to choose the reaction of this stimulus, to ensure the best results for you and for the others around you. And that behavior is the ground rule for the free choice, able to create and sustain leadership behavior.

As a leader, you will need to adapt such a free answer to stimulus behavior to sustain leadership behavior in time and ensure that this leadership behavior is the reason for your success as a leader and result creator.

To be successful in that process and save some money and time for your company and yourself, you will need to build a winning approach toward the stimulus brought to you. Here are 5 steps to  help  you  with  that:

Learn the environment
The first thing to do is to learn as much as you can for the surrounding environment.  What happens around you is crucial for the behavior you will have to demonstrate. Behavior and attitudes that are not in alignment with the environment are toxic and are often cause for conflict.  Still, if you have to make a choice or decision you will need to know the capacity of the environment.

Learn the culture
Something good you can make for you and others, to avoid conflicts is to learn the culture specifics.  More than 90% of all conflicts are caused by miscommunication.  If you want to lower the level of stress and conflicts teach yourself about attitudes,  understandings, behavior specifics, performance, and ethical standards,  tolerated actions, etc.  That can help  you  structure better your behavior toward upcoming changes or rising stress in the environment and will help  you  to keep a healthy  level  of energy  distribution;

Learn the leadership  style
People are led by examples.  In a group of followers, the leader is responsible for setting the standard. Your task is to find the leader of the group and understand what are the specifics of the leadership style he or she is practicing. But take into consideration that often in a group or team you will have more than one person named leader.  To find the right approach you will need to focus on exploring what standards are set, from whom, and last but not least how are activities done, according to the standards set.   The real leader in a certain environment can be the one with formal authority or someone else who does not have the formal authority but can influence the group or team to be effective and deliver results.  

Plan for change
You have collected all the information you need.  Analyzed the leadership style and all the elements of the surrounding environment.  But you still are on your way to change yourself and the environment you are entering.  If you  have so much  valuable information collected you will need to  plan in two directions – what you  can change in yourself to  adapt to the environment, and what needs to be changed in the environment, so  that you can exist in it, without conflicting your internal  values, attitudes, and understanding with  the ones, set as a standard behavior in the environment. Your plan must not focus on only one element.  If you try to change only yourself,  then you will fall in the trap of demotivation,  disengagement, and dissatisfaction who will lead you to burnout and will lower your level of performance, effectiveness, and happiness.  If you try to change only the environment you will face resistance that can weaken your strengths from the process of constantly confronting all elements of an environment that differs from your understandings, beliefs, values, and attitudes. That is why your plan for change must be balanced and includes changes from both sides you and the environment.

Camels are amazing creatures, but what their behavior can teach us is that If we want to see change,  we have to be engaged in change in both directions – internal and external. Leadership behavior is a choice, but our choices are the first step to awareness for change and having all the information we need is a crucial  element for defining our success and cultural and leadership change. 

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