by Evelyne Oreskovich, Featured Contributor
I’VE BEEN SEEING a lot of lions lately. It seems to be the new icon for everyone’s increased optimism and aggressiveness for business this year. Be a lion in sales. Be a lion in innovation. Be a lion as a leader.
As a symbol of leadership, we primarily see images of male lions. Big, full manes, roaring, lording over their prides. But today, I saw a different image. A group of lionesses with their cubs. So I decided to take a closer look at the differences between male and female lion behavior. It turned out to be a great metaphor for our continuing discussion of male and female executive leadership traits.
Male lions are mostly loners. Young males are expelled from their prides in their adolescence, around the age of 3, and hang around with a handful of other related males making trouble and scraping by. Their mission in life is to find a pride of females and mate to propagate their gene pool.
When (and if) they finally make it to a dominant position within a pride, usually by fighting off an aging male leader, one of the first things they do is to kill many of the former leader’s cubs and impregnate as many females as possible. This ensures his progeny will be in positions of advancement within the pride hierarchy. The male’s role is to protect the females and his own cubs.
Now let’s look at the lionesses. They live together in groups. They take care of each other and each other’s cubs. They are the hunters and are responsible for procuring food for the pride. The males eat first from the kill brought by the females; they don’t hunt unless they’re not attached to a pride.
Lionesses raise the cubs. Teach them to hunt. Discipline them. Teach them their roles within the pride. All the lionesses pool their duties so they don’t just nurture and develop their own cubs but each other’s as well.
Nurture and develop. Sound familiar?
It’s certainly a gross generalization to say male leadership involves power and cronyism and women’s as nurturing and developing. I’ve certainly seen and experiences both genders display both behaviors. However there is a certain familiarity in those behavioral depictions.
How many of us have seen leaders, when taking over a new pride – I mean step into a new CEO position, bring their team with them? Their admin assistant, their 2nd in command, a few of their mentees and loyalists all seem to make it to the new company from the CEO’s previous jobs. I’ve been with several companies where the entire executive suite, 6 months after a management change, was replaced with executives from the new CEO’s previous jobs.
While there is nothing inherently wrong with that, although it does remind me of that lion trait mentioned earlier of killing the previous leader’s cubs and replacing them with their own.
Many female leaders are encouraged to “behave more like men”. They are told they mentor too much, spending more time nurturing other people’s careers, rather than taking care of their own. Mentor too much and you’ll never be a leader. Develop too much and you’ll be threatened by ambitions of your own protégés. If they’re too good, they’ll replace you. (Wait, remember that article I wrote about succession planning? But I digress…)
My personal opinion is that when your team succeeds it reflects your strength as a leader.
So, next time you employ the lion metaphor for your business or group, be clear on which lion you want your team to be.