Leadership Lessons From Up High

By Lisa Litzinger-Drayton

Years ago, while serving as a CEO for a PwC subsidiary in Atlanta, Hubert Glover began to notice that giraffes were everywhere. In paintings. The subject of sculptures. He attributed their prevalence to Atlanta’s thriving African-American community – a reflection of the majestic creatures’ status as a symbol of Africa.

An analogy occurred to him: In the natural world, giraffes have physical traits, habits and social behaviors that are comparable to those of leaders he’d admired in business, government, even sports. Years later, his concept now fully developed, he decided to share these observations in a new book, co-authored with John Curry, titled Giraffes of Technology: The Making of the 21st Century Leader. Here are some of the key traits of giraffes that Glover says today’s leaders should emulate:

Think Ahead
Giraffes serve as lookout posts — their height provides a natural visionary capability, and they also embrace a responsibility to look out beyond their herd for others and find new opportunities. Apple did this with music when it created iTunes, which solved the consumer demand for flexibility (as well as the legal battles) and enabled the music industry to remain relevant.

Demonstrate Resilience
Giraffes have a violent birth as they fall more than 6 feet to the ground. Their mothers do not touch them until they demonstrate the ability and initiative to stand up. Failure is an opportunity to learn what your organization’s capabilities are. Leaders must drive organizations to adapt to change, learn from failure and continuously strive to innovate.

Stay on Your Toes
Giraffes rarely sleep and are constantly feeding. Leaders must display an insatiable thirst for knowledge and guide the organization to remain diligent in understanding its external customers and its internal customers (employees), especially in light of the rate of change in products and services and the empowerment of the consumer due to social media.

Constantly Assess Danger
Giraffes often face threats, such as lions. Leaders must view lions of change as an opportunity to validate new ideas, leverage the rigor of the challenge and develop the story to persuade opponents to embrace new ideas and concepts.

Expand Your Horizons
Giraffes move from one feeding ground to another. Leaders must guide the organization to find new markets and strategic partners, and facilitate constant innovation and positive response to change. John Deere has survived more than 150 years with fewer than 10 CEOs, despite a very competitive market and volatile economic cycles, by actively seeking feedback and looking for new ideas to benefit customers.

Nurture Your Herd
Finally, giraffes are viewed as gentle, caring giants. Leaders must guide their organizations to care about their customers and community. Netflix made a mistake when it decided to split into two companies: one for DVDs and another for online streaming. When negative feedback emerged, it listened to customers and admitted its error. Now, Netflix’ growth is exponential, unlike Blockbuster, which seemingly ignored innovations in video technology and changes in consumer demand.

Hubert Glover, PhD, is an associate clinical professor of accounting at Drexel LeBow. His book is available for sale through several retailers, including Amazon.