Hopefully, we all know never to get in a cage with a lion or stroll through a lion’s territory. But what happens when a lion finds us?
I recently came across a video on how to survive a lion attack. To my surprise, the video advised that the normal “fight or flight” reaction is useless against a lion. A human is nowhere near strong enough to fight a lion, nor to outrun one. Lions can climb trees faster than us, and literally smell our fear.
The video recommended new ways of looking at the problem. The best options for someone who finds themselves in the crosshairs of this wild, powerful animal are:
- Reading the lion’s behavior to determine its intent.
- Using body language so you don’t appear to be a threat.
- Intimidating the lion.
A lion for every leader
Some entrepreneurs confront metaphorical lions every day at work. Even if you hold a senior role with a significant level of authority, lions are waiting to attack. The lion shows up as:
- Toxic executive committee dynamics where the group looks for the weakest link to blame a failed initiative on.
- The bully colleague who berates others to make themselves look good.
- The opinionated client who contributes to a significant portion of the bottom line.
- The major shareholder who’s out of touch with the realities of running the business.
These people wield their greater power and influence over others, imagining themselves as the “king of the jungle”. When you can’t “tame” your workplace lion, how do you handle them?
The flight response
When we’re under the gaze of a prowling lion at work, our flight response may manifest as lack of confidence. This inhibits our ability to perform our best work, provide our best ideas, and collaborate with others. We may come off as the easiest target in the room. Our performance suffers and those around us can feel it. If nothing changes the situation, we may find a way to run away… like quitting.
The fight response
Our fight response can manifest as the workplace spat. Public arguments undermine our leadership and cause coworkers to lose our respect. Being combative can trigger a negative reaction from the “lion” that can lead to our organizational demise.
The survival response
This isn’t about making friends with the lion. It’s about surviving the lion.
- Stay calm. We think better when we’re not panicking. Recognize that the initial threat or trigger (a negative comment, a bad decision, or a menacing look) will generate an immediate psychological response from you, but that’s not always the best moment to react. Give yourself a moment to calm down until you can think more rationally.
- Don’t pose a threat. Everyone knows what happens when you poke a lion, so don’t do it. If this person is more powerful than you, there’s no benefit from it, even if you’re right. Don’t confront them. If you need to communicate a difficult message, a private dialogue can work better than one in front of an audience.
- Appear intimidating. If the lion does recognize your presence, now’s the time to make yourself look bigger. Use your body language to convey confidence, authority, competence, and strength. If the lion directs their ire at you, don’t flinch.
- Protect your neck. Lions always go for the neck to suffocate their prey. Your “neck” is your emotional, physical, and psychological health. Find a supportive mentor, a therapist, or a coach who can help you identify the right strategies and options for your professional future.
Naturally, we all want to call the lion out—to ditch the troublesome client, oust the board member, or lose funding by ending a relationship with a sponsor. But organizational relationships, politics and priorities are complex. It’s not worth blowing up the company you’ve built over one predator. It may take time to figure out the right way to address the lion. Meanwhile, you must survive day by day until you can begin to thrive again.
Each of us will have to survive lions at different times in our careers. As tough as it is, it also helps us recognize our own strength.
How are you surviving your lion?
If you want tips and tricks to create a good working environment, read The Conscious Workplace by Shaara Roman.