IN THE ANIMAL KINGDOM, every creature—big or small—has its traits. Some are cautious. Some are curious. In the business world, leaders have their traits, too, as they try to keep their organizations one step (or more) ahead of a ravenous pack of competitors. This got us thinking: what animals best represent some of the common leadership styles found in the wild world of business? Here is what we’ve come up. Welcome to the jungle.
You are a powerful personality who likes to dominate. Exerting significant control over your staff and making snap decisions is your modus operandi. This can work for companies where quick choices must be made with minimal consultation. But it also leads to high turnover and a lack of creativity among the team. “It’s been accepted for quite a few years that this is not the most effective style,” says Nicole Paquet, EY Canada’s senior manager for its Atlantic Canada people advisory services practice.
This leader really struts his or her stuff, using charm, social skills and a keen understanding of people to get their employees to buy in to their vision. “People look up to this person. This is a leader that an employee can say, ‘I want to emulate if I ever got into this kind of position,’” says Dr. Kara Arnold, professor in organizational behaviour and human resource management with the Faculty of Business Administration at Memorial University. The downside to this leader’s brilliant plumage? The company is too closely tied to him or her. If the peacock leaves, it can create a power void the firm struggles to fill.
The eagle is a rare bird. He or she is a visionary leader who instills the values of working independently and being decisive in their teams. “What I like about the eagle is it has a laser focus,” Paquet says. “If there is a barrier or an opportunity, the eagle is able to hone in on that and work to remove the barrier.” An eagle-like leadership style produces motivated employees who are satisfied and motivated at work. They aren’t going to fly away from the nest because there is no reason to leave.
Wise? Check. Organized? Check. Detail-orientated? Check. The owl is a fine leader for businesses with routine-based jobs or risky work environments where following rules and procedures is critical—an oil refinery, for example. “The carrots and sticks are predictable. It’s not random. They keep their word,” says Dr. Catherine Loughlin, associate dean research and knowledge mobilization with the Sobey School of Business at Saint Mary’s University. The flipside? The owl’s conservative nature doesn’t work as well in workplaces where innovation and outside-the-box thinking are a necessity.
Whoa, Nelly! The horse leads by example. He or she is comfortable collaborating with the team, values co-worker input and seeks peer thoughts and ideas when making decisions. “Horses are very comfortable leading within their group. They are not into drama. They are collaborative. They are also aware and very social and interactive within their team,” Paquet says. This leadership style creates high worker satisfaction. However, too much collaborating can slow decision-making.
This canny boss can change her or his leadership approach depending on the situation and/or employee. This makes sense, as every company is made up of different people with different personalities. “Maybe there are certain employees where I need to be more empowering,” Dr. Arnold says. “Maybe there are certain employees where I need to be a bit more focused in terms of providing them feedback when things go wrong because of my role. There is a lot of complexity to (organizational leadership).” Whatever the situation, chameleons are up to the task.