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Leadership Lessons from the Jungle of Life

February 12, 2015

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I love it when nature becomes the perfect metaphor for life and leading. My family and I recently took a super fun excursion on a GINORMOUS buggy deep into the Everglades. I have to admit that I was both excited for the adventure, and scared of the “what if’s!” It’s sad to admit that I have not taken much advantage of this beautiful resource in all my 40+ years in Florida.

I was with my children, though, and I kept listening to my inner chatter, which at times was saying something like, “You don’t want your kids to be fearful! Suck it up, smile, and have a blast!” In this moment, my leadership role was as MOM to my kids, preparing them for the Jungle of Life! You know what’s in the jungle…lions, tigers and bears (oh my!)
In this jungle, on this perfect sunny and cool day, we encountered fresh panther and bear tracks (yes, I said fresh!!!) And, as we explored one Cyprus Dome after another, we came across a water moccasin! It got a little hairy at that point, and we realized that we were, in deed, in the presence of danger. We held our breath. We laughed it off. We kept going.

I look back on that day and see all of us without the proper gear (although we tried!), up to our thighs in mucky cold water exploring our South Florida gem, and I’m so proud of what we accomplished and survived as a family. My 16-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter dug deep that day, kept their thoughts positive, and pushed through. And, well, I kept my cool even during those moments where I wanted to grab my kids and run back to the buggy! I pushed myself. In the end, we had a fantastic adventure and created great memories. In fact, our wonderful guide shared that he’d never met a more adventurous family!

On the buggy during our ride back, I couldn’t help but notice how one side of the ‘glades was black, dry, and brittle from brush fires, and the other side was green, lush and vibrant. For me, this signified the yin and the yang in everything, just like my feelings of both excitement and fear. Additionally, it was a great reminder that some things have to die to bear new life.

So what does this have to do with leading? I’d love for you to identify for yourself a personal experience where you could take those learnings from “life” and bring them into your “work life”. I truly enjoy making these parallel comparisons often.

For me, here are a few leadership learnings I took from this journey into the ‘glades:

1. Expect Yin and Yang in Everything!

Even the best of opportunities bring some challenges. Where there is light there also is darkness. Be prepared. There is no better example of this than in nature. As we witnessed…a tree, completely burned, with one small leaf growing out of it! Death, yet signs of new life! I also think about perspectives. Where there is one perspective or opinion, you can bet there will be another! As a leader in all situations, being prepared for this dichotomy can save us a lot of wasted energy.

2. Set the Pace. Be the Example.

Leaders are expected to lead. When we don’t meet those expectations, our tribe loses faith in us. We are nothing without our tribe! My children were definitely looking to my husband and me to model how to think, feel and act during this new adventure for us all. And isn’t that how leadership begins? We learn by and through others. Some leaders are great, and some not so great, but the learning is continuous regardless. Especially when teams and organizations are in challenging, and perhaps risky situations or environments, it really helps to hunker down and follow the leader. Sometimes, that’s the only way to make it through to the end. For us, heading in and out of these high grass and water domes, there was no other way…it was one behind the other!

3. You don’t know what you don’t know!

Although we tried our best to prepare, I’m not sure we knew exactly what we were getting ourselves into! We made a quick run (the day before!) to Target and purchased anything that resembled “jungle gear”. We made some great finds, but we didn’t realize how under-prepared we were until we hit our first dome. That was the negative. The positive is that you better believe we’ll be ready next time. As leaders, if we are able to do the necessary homework and preparations to plan for success, do it! Err on the side of caution. Although we were lucky enough to not encounter a truly sticky situation, we did come really close with that water moccasin! Too close. Sometimes business is unforgiving and you only have one shot to win. I am grateful for our tour guide, and learned a lot from him. As leaders we really don’t know it all and we have to be willing to listen and learn in order to grow.

4. Share and Celebrate.

Don’t we always have war stories to share? No matter what the outcome, it’s so important to focus on what went well and cement those awesome moments in our memories. They really do help us stretch. We all were outside of our comfort zones that day, and stretch we did! We celebrated our adventure with a yummy BBQ lunch, and we still can’t stop talking about it and sharing it with others. At work, these are moments that can really bond a team and provide spaces for vulnerability, which help us all understand that we’re human after all.

I bet you have a similar experience, and I’d love to hear it!

Share and celebrate!

It’s your life. Lead it well.
Monique

 

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