We have identified with animals from childhood—all those stuffed animals in our cribs and playpens formed an early linkage, a simpatico with animals we believed, at least for a while, to have hearts and souls. And then, there were all the books and movies and videos that enhanced that linkage. When children cry over “Bambi” or “The Velveteen Rabbit,” something is causing that emotional reaction. That something is our early bonding with creatures of the earth that don’t look like us but that we relate to nonetheless. And when children laugh at Mickey Mouse’s or the roadrunner’s antics, it is because they understand those who populate the natural kingdom. These creatures are our kindred spirits.
LET THE WILD CALL TO YOU
Our imaginations have made us aligned with creatures, as have certain traditions, in particular those inherent in the Native American culture. Each tribe is guided by an animal spirit, the energy belonging to that animal on earth. The power is greater than that belonging to just one animal, as it represents the spirit of all that animal’s predecessors.
From the Bible, through Aesop’s Fables to modern works of literature like Animal Farm or world-acclaimed accounts like Jane Goodall’s of animals in their natural state, we have bonded with and been inspired by animals all of our lives. (As a child, Goodall had a toy chimpanzee named Jubilee that helped shape her future.) It is a very small leap then to move from this enormous influence to the lessons to be learned from the nature world.
OUR LOVE AFFAIR WITH ANIMALS
Up to 80 million dogs and 96 million cats find themselves in American households—to say nothing of the other species cherished as pets. Is it any wonder we find ourselves mirrored in their behaviors, our lives entwined with their existence?
There is a word for the emulation of nature to derive scientific benefits: biomimcry. It is considered a method of solving human problems by imitating nature. Consider subscribing to a “biomimicreed,” a belief that there is much we can learn from nature’s way. If you do subscribe to this belief, you will discover there are many benefits to be derived from studying the animal, insect, and marine world.
TEDDY GRINNED BUT DIDN’T BEAR IT
When U.S. President Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt refused to shoot a black bear cub on a hunting trip, a cartoon featured the event, and soon toy-manufacturers popularized “Teddy’s bear.” Apart from their stuffed adorable likenesses, bears are providing medical researchers valuable information to alleviate the trauma-related pain many people experience.
One of those researchers is Dr. Oivind Toien. He and other scientists from the American Association for the Advancement of Science learned that when bears hibernate, they lower their metabolic rate by 75% for an extended period. Doing nothing but snoring through long winter months, hibernating bears were found to maintain their body temperature fairly consistently during this time, but the amount of oxygen they need in this suppressed state dropped significantly, causing their hearts to beat at a much slower pace.
Scientists are working to extend the lives of people who have suffered a heart attack or a stroke and who need to get oxygenated blood to their brains quickly. If researchers can discover the mechanisms that allow bears to stay alive, even though they have slowed down to only 25% of their normal functions, they can advance medical science considerably.
LEADERSHIP LESSONS DERIVED BY STUDYING BEAR BEHAVIOR
Take a stand if you are interested in growing your reputation.
Of course, taking a stand may also mean you run the risk of alienating large groups of people whose beliefs differ from your own. The controversy over global warming, for example, has been a divisive issue, with passionate believers on both sides. It takes courage to brook deeply-held views, but the best leaders speak from the heart, regardless of which way pop- ular sentiment leans.
Revisit ideas that may seem dead and buried.
Revisiting ideas that were good but never “got off the ground” can lead to impressive results. When we say “It’s an idea whose time has come,” we acknowledge that some ideas have to hibernate before emerging in more propitious circumstances.
Know that going into “under-drive” occasionally may reap rich rewards.
Being in a constant state of overdrive can negatively affect one’s immune system. Hyperactivity, no matter how well-intentioned it is, can take its toll on a team over time.
QUESTIONS TO SPUR YOUR LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT
- What are some abandoned or “buried” practices that might be worth revisiting?
- What processes in your leadership life should be slowed down?
- How do you persuade hyperactive team members to rely less on impulse and to attend more carefully to the issue before them?
- Describe a time when you observed some animal behavior and learned from it.
- What lessons can be derived from your childhood actions and affinities?
- How can you lessen the stress that may surround a work project?
- When have you found it necessary to move from overdrive to under drive?
- What examples can you think of that illustrate the valuable lessons we can learn from nature?
LEARN FROM THE PARALLELS
Author Benjamin Kilham pointed out In the Company of Bears: What Black Bears Have Taught Me About Intelligence and Intuition the numerous connections between humans and bears. Among those connections are the ability to bond with strangers. Additionally, he notes, that bears “make calculations about relative costs and benefits, they lay down rules and punish those who break them. They trade based on a clear system of reciprocity. They communicate using equal parts emotion, intention, and dependence on context–a combination that is essential for communication between strangers….”
HAVE FAITH IN YOUR MIMICREED
Whether you are communicating/working with strangers or co-workers or friends and family, emulating the best to be found in the birds and the bees and the beasts will serve you well as you move through life.