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NIëL STEINMANN PRESENTING LESSONS FROM LIONS 13 |       July 2016
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Lesson 13: True leadership brings stability (Part 1)

My close interaction with lions over the past 15 years have allowed me to not only revel in their presence but to intimately appreciate their exploits and intelligence. These wonderful beasts exhibit quite predictable behaviour in their day to day interactions but it is how they function in a social structure, called a pride, that I find particularly fascinating. Lions are social creatures and organise themselves in two distinctive types of structures. Some are "residents", living in groups of related lionesses, their mates, and offspring. Membership in a pride only changes with the births and deaths of lionesses, although some females do leave and become nomadic. Female lions do not exhibit any social dominance over one another and no lioness is the leader. The females form the backbone of the pride and its success rests heavily on them and their ability to work synergistically together. This synergy requires stability that only the dominant males can provide.  

The second social organization is called "nomads", who normally range widely and move about sporadically, either singularly or in pairs. Males never stay in their birth pride, they are always pushed out with their brothers upon reaching or nearing maturity. It is nature’s way to ensure that there is no inbreeding amongst the royals.
Nomads will strategically join forces to take over a pride. The number of adult males in a coalition is usually two but may increase to as many as four before decreasing again over time. These males must win their way into a pride of females and once they do, they must fend off challenges from males outside the pride who try to take their place. The typical time frame for a male or a coalition dominating and leading a pride is just 2 to 5 years.

Nomads will strategically join forces to take over a pride. The number of adult males in a coalition is usually two but may increase to as many as four before decreasing again over time. These males must win their way into a pride of females and once they do, they must fend off challenges from males outside the pride who try to take their place. The typical time frame for a male or a coalition dominating and leading a pride is just 2 to 5 years.
Among the males of a pride, the largest male is normally the dominant but personalities do play a role. The physical strength and aggression of the males are the determining factors of their dominance and this allow them to fulfil particular duties within the pride. They would normally stay on the fringes to patrol and protect their territory. The males will savagely defend the pride against intruders and competition. During pride takeovers the cubs and females are extremely vulnerable. The new males will go out of their way to kill off all the cubs of a pride that they are taking over which would bring the females back into oestrus. The pride will be thrown into disarray and the lionesses would do anything to hide and protect their young from the new intruders.

As far as hyenas are concerned, they occupy the same ecological niche as lions, meaning they compete for the same prey in the areas where they coexist. A review of data across several studies indicates a dietary overlap of close to 65%. Hyenas are opportunistic and in the absence of the territorial males they are bold enough to harass much larger lionesses and even feed alongside them at a kill. Occasionally they will be successful in chasing the lionesses of their own kill. The sheer size and presence of a male, or coalition of males, allow them to confront hyenas and even kill the intruders.

I have personally witnessed the formidable force of 3 male lions in Sabi Sand. At 7 years old, they were moving into their prime and were gaining confidence. These experienced males had many successes, from chasing off and successfully defending their turf from rival males for 5 years, to expanding their territory and siring new cubs of their own. Clearly leadership brings stability. This protection and security enjoyed by the members of their pride was what kept the pride together. The females flourished as several cubs were raised to maturity, ultimately ensuring the sustainability of the Southern pride.

In our world this type of leadership is also imperative. For us to grow and be sustainable we also require the stability that leadership offer. Leadership is most definitely the critical link that connects strategy with people. Ultimately leadership ensures performance and results. At the same time leadership influences and directs the behaviour of individuals and groups in such a way that they willingly pursue what the leader is convinced should be done.  We all have views of those non-negotiable qualities of good leaders, they should be visionary, inspirational, influencing, people centred and the list goes on...Have you thought of the quality that you admire most in good leaders?

I am of the opinion that “wise and knowledgeable leaders bring stability” and it is for this reason that "stability" is the quality I admire most in leaders. Stability is something we don’t often think about as a leadership quality – that is until it’s absent. Think of the worst leader possible. I can almost certainly guarantee that this individual does not offer any assurance or a sense of solidity. Such erratic, or inconsistent leaders create unnecessary levels of tension, anxiety and discord. A lack of stability harms growth, stifles productivity, erodes trust, and makes it extremely difficult to focus on the task at hand. Instability is also an omen of bigger problems and things to come.

On the other hand, the beautiful thing about stable leaders, is they provide a stabilizing influence on those that surround and support them.  These are individuals you can trust – they are leaders you can build around. Stable leaders bring certainty and consistency that we in teams, organizations and countries so desperately need, but often find missing.

Deepak Chopra confirms these thoughts on stability after completing an international survey on leadership. He writes.. “Offering and bringing stability is critical for all leaders. This is especially true as countries and companies are experiencing unprecedented challenges and changes. Political landscapes are changing, countries experience economic turmoil and businesses are shaped by these and other mass disruptions such as technology, social media and the convergence of four contrasting and dissimilar generations in the workplace.” Stability is therefore critical to reassure people and to inspire them to give their best. Challenges requires resolute and stable leadership”.

Few things positively impact a country, organization or team like a stable tone from the top. A humble and resolute confidence, a sure hand, and a steady calm, inspire belief in a leader’s competence and capability.  Stable leaders not only know where they stand, but they also leave no doubt in the minds of others as to what matters, and what will and won’t be tolerated or accepted.

South Africa is not any different. The role players in our political landscape are distracted and there is a great need for composed and unwavering political leadership. Economically, we desperately require calm, competent and level headed leadership to assure rating agencies and the world that we are creditworthy and show promise of economic growth and stability. Firm and principled leadership is compulsory to save failing parastatals and struggling corporate entities.  Steady leadership is greatly needed in churches, communities and schools. Even our national sport teams require established leadership that offer stability and a promise of consistency.

It is indeed a quality desperately needed. The best leaders in my view create a sense of hope. With them at the helm there is an expectation of better things to come. There is greater optimism and there are more authentic and lively discussions about the future even in the toughest times.

Part two will share questions that leaders should ask themselves about the pillars of stability.
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