Tame the lions prowling the
"I would never go into the lion's cage unless I knew what kind of a day he
By STEVEN L. KATZ:
Canadian Globe & Mail: Friday, February 25,
2005 - Page C1
Do you feel that you need a whip and a chair to work
effectively with your boss, client, colleagues, customers, or others?
You know the dangers: a growl if you throw them a compliment and a roar if
you ever look for thanks.
Who hasn't been afraid of getting his or her head bitten off at work? Who
hasn't admired someone's strength, yet feared his or her ability to tear
others from limb to limb?
You have probably heard the roar of more than a few lions in the workplace:
people with power, responsibility, authority and talent -- not to mention
those who may be preoccupied with gaining more power and authority.
Working with lions is not like working with other people.
To lions, you are either prey, the enemy or ignored. Prey they eat, the
enemy they kill and everyone else they disregard.
You don't want to end up like any of these. Instead, you need to know how to
tame the lions to become a valued part of their pride.
We need lions. And we need people who are good at being lions, particularly
those who can become great lions as leaders.
We look to the lions as being vital to the success of any company or
organization. We need them to use their persona to lead in a new direction,
face challenges, apply their strength and power, seize on opportunities and
pounce. Your own success depends on it.
The problem is that so often the lions are isolated at the top of the
hierarchy and we make the mistake of thinking they are self-sufficient.
But the most successful lions in business -- the "lions of industry" that we
hear about -- actually depend on others to influence their thinking and
actions by selflessly contributing ideas, intelligence, relationships,
strategy, experience and resources.
The catch is that, as one real lion tamer put it, "When lions leap through
hoops of fire, they don't want it to look like someone made them do it."
This is also an unwritten rule of working with corporate lions.
So how do you
identify the lions?
You must recognize that they are a different species and require special
handling. "Approach the lions mammal to mammal," said famed lion tamer Mabel
Lions act differently because they think differently. It's not just their
status in the organization that signals they are lions, it's also their
Many lions look to seize the advantage. They will patiently plan, wait and
make their move.
Still others are nomadic lions, working alone or in coalitions. Some team up
to work, others team up to kill. They can be ruthlessly competitive and
They are also enigmatic, and they know it.
The energy they hold in reserve is always more worrisome than what they are
doing at the moment. Keeping others off balance while they remain surefooted
also keeps them on top.
But in both the wild and the workplace, their most important characteristic
is that, unlike other people, they have an extra set of four senses that
affect how they think and act.
This is the lion's compass: recognizing and understanding these senses is
key to decoding their behaviour, getting on their radar screen and moving
from the food chain to being an influential member of the pride.
Dominance is the lion's span of authority, influence, and advantages --
actual and desired. The lions are asking themselves: 'What am I the lion of,
and what do I want to reign over?'
Territory is anything the lions are motivated to protect, preserve, expand
or even conquer.
In the workplace, this includes head count, market share, decisions, budget,
clients, policies, actual physical property, and more. Territory is the
foundation for the span of influence or control that makes a lion feel
Social standing is the measure of the lion's self-image. Because lions in
the wild and the workplace have social egos, they also care about what
others think of them. Their senses must answer the dual questions of "Who
knows that I am a lion?" and "Where do I stand as a lion?"
How does that play out in the real world? See
if you recognize any of these lions at work:
The aggressive CEO who intimidates everyone
in his or her path, shoulders squared against all comers.
The boss who exudes a tough exterior but
seems to take everything personally.
The executive who snarls irritably at an
idea but never explains what is bugging him or her.
The boss who flares up when someone is
missing from a meeting, when information is not at hand, or when things
are not the way he or she expected.
A leader who exhibits a warm friendly quality
one-on-one but pretends that you don't exist in a crowd.
How do you use your knowledge to enter into a closer, more consistent and
more positive working relationship with the lions around you?
If you are trying to establish a great
relationship with lions, you are on the wrong track. It won't help your
career and it won't make you more successful. Remember: Lions are never
tame. Rather, you have to use the lion's four senses to decode their
feelings and mood, energy and interests.
Speaking lion language also means becoming fluent in the "silent language,"
or body language, by becoming a more active participant, observer and
collector of information about the lion.
It is also situational. Remember, lions are sensitive
creatures. As lion tamer Jorge Barreda has said: "I
would never go into the lion's cage unless I knew what kind of a day he was
Most importantly, speaking lion language means being alert to whether any of
the lion's four senses is in question. Tame those concerns with reassurances
- Dominance: "People are really glad you're in
- Territory: "You've made a lot of progress and new
- Social standing: "Others respect what you have to
- Survival: "Your star is rising."
Speaking lion language also means "speaking truth to
There are times when the best way to use the lion's four
senses is as a risk-management tool.
You've got to be able to stand your ground and point out
that a certain idea, decision or action the lion has in mind may weaken his
or her dominance, territory, social standing or survival.
The fact that no one else will tell them is your cue to
step forward. When I have asked real lion tamers to explain the secret of
their trade, one of the best simply leaned over and whispered in my ear "We
To really "connect," whether in the centre ring or in the workplace, you
need to establish a working relationship that the big cats will ultimately
rely upon to help them maintain their dominance, territory, social standing
To do that requires accomplishment on four important fronts:
- Rapport: The lion is listening.
- Trust: The lion doesn't think you will hurt him
- Respect: The lion sees something that you have
that he or she needs.
- Confidence: The lion is going to let you help
him or her.
To gain rapport, you need to build your connection and
relationship to the lion. And to do that, you have to clue in -- to what
kind of day the lion is having, its attention span and receptivity to you --
In short, you get the lion to listen by focusing on your
ability to get the lion's attention -- and, most importantly, get it again
when you need it.
Real lion tamers achieve this by training the lion to sit on the pedestal --
it isn't simply so the audience can see the big cats better.
The lions in the workplace need a pedestal, too, somewhere
that they feel dominant and secure in the feeling of dominance -- and if it
isn't their desk, it could be a conference table, a sitting area, or even
more public places so they can be seen.
Trust is more than the usual "do they trust me?" Lions are hierarchical
creatures who put themselves on the line, and recognize that while they
might be higher up in the food chain, they are also more vulnerable -- to
other lions, and to the many people below whose lives they impact.
Even the strongest and highest-ranking lions are still worried about
survival; since you may not be a frequent visitor to their world, they will
be worried that something you might do will cause them risk or harm.
So give them time to adjust to you. Do not try to compete with them as
another lion. Team up with other people in the organization who might know
It is only after rapport and trust have been established that the lion
focuses on you, and what you have to offer.
That's where respect and confidence come into the picture. Now they are
focused on the skills, resources, relationships and abilities that you have
-- and they have developed the confidence that you can help them.
In case you truly believed that there is such a thing as taming a lion, it
should be clear that the job is not really about controlling or subduing
anyone. It's really about teaming, not taming.
Teaming with the lions? In fact, lions in the wild and the workplace are
actually hard-wired to survive and succeed in both the hierarchy and in
leading the pride -- in other words, they are hard-wired for teaming.
So learn how to approach the lions so that they approach you. You'll know
you've tamed the lions when they keep coming back to you for more.
U.S. executive coach and speaker Steven L. Katz
is the author of Lion Taming: Working Successfully with Leaders,
Bosses, and other Tough Customers.