Brain Food: Why business is like ... Lion-taming

Who is most likely to be teacher's pet? The hopeless and disruptive child who can't remember their times-tables, or the beautiful, popular child, who can recite them backwards, forwards and inside out? No prizes for that one.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

But with lion-taming it is the runt of the litter and not the alpha male that is marked out for special favours. In The Life of Pi, Yann Martel's story of a young Indian boy who grew up in a zoo, a brief reference is made to the skill by which a lion-tamer takes control of the pride. By identifying the least popular lion and by elevating it far above its natural station, the lion-tamer earns its unconditional loyalty - and with that, protection from the rest of the pack. The chosen lion will realise that this is as good as it gets and will do all it possibly can to preserve this new state of affairs, thus securing the lion-tamer's position.

In business this explains a phenomenon that many may recognise - the very senior and powerful business leader surrounded by acolytes distinguished not by talent but by their loyalty - an attachment that functions through the conferring of an undeserved status that they could never dream of achieving elsewhere.

So if we're looking for wing support in business, should we seek out the downtrodden underdog? Or are those who emulate the tactics of the lion-tamer pursuing a flawed model for effective leadership?

Lion-tamers seek to dominate and subjugate their co-workers. A good leader, one would hope, is there to nurture team members towards fulfilment of their potential. If domination rather than inspiration is foremost in your mind, better join a circus rather than turn business into the lions' den.

Jenny Harris is Young Businesswoman of the Year and director of JRBH Strategy & Management,


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