What senior leaders can learn from master wildlife trackers

A guest blog by Grant Ashfield

Reading time: 3:30s

Many of us are now working from home.

It’s an uncertain and difficult time for everyone. Less structure, more time to think. The long days ahead offer time for reflection at a deeper level.

Here are some points to consider, based on what I’ve learned from an unusual group of people…

Alex van den Heever has worked in the African bushveld for most of his adult life, as a conservationist game ranger and leader of habitat restoration projects. As a result, he has been richly blessed.

A big reason for this is his work with expert wildlife trackers, such as Renias Mhlongo and Karel Benadie. People with unique skills that place them in a league of their own.

But it’s more than skill which sets them apart.

They possess a special blend of attributes. Human qualities that have kept them at the top of their game.

And it’s been put to the test… with leopards and lions in Africa. Grizzly bears in North America and pumas in the hostile sierras of Patagonia.

Fascinated, I sat with Alex to learn more. My goal was to understand what senior executives can learn from master trackers.

Here’s what he shared with me.

1 They know what they are good at

They play to their strengths. Karel, for example, is excellent at trailing over rough, broken ground. Renias is brilliant at anticipating an animal’s direction.

Knowing their strengths (talents) is a big advantage. It helps them find the animal fast and with little wasted effort. Equally, they know what they are not good at.

2 They love what they do

Their motivation is intrinsic. Being on the trail is work, of course, but it’s work with meaning. They are happy and relaxed because they are doing what they are best at.

Their reward is not only finding the animal. The process itself is deeply rewarding. It’s where they express themselves. Thus they track when it’s hot, cold and uncomfortable. This perseverance makes them more successful, more often.

3 They balance rational thought with creativity

Trailing an elusive animal requires them to be both literal and imaginative. Competence with the detail and big picture thinking is foundational to their mastery.

They zoom in and zoom out of these two modes effortlessly.

Engaging with the minutiae of the trail is necessary. But it’s combined with the ever-changing information from the landscape around them. This is creativity in action and helps to anticipate and leapfrog ahead.

4 They are constantly learning

There is never a moment of ‘I’ve arrived’. Curiosity is a signature feature of their personality.

Despite their experience, they have an intense desire to know and understand more. Growing their knowledge and skills is a habit.

Losing the track does not derail them. This is a fresh opportunity to learn. It’s all part of the process. Amidst the uncertainty, they consistently display calmness and common sense.

5 They radiate conviction and confidence

Both are positive to a fault. Self-limiting beliefs about their ability to find the animal are non-existent. They simply believe they will be successful.

This is contagious. It inspires confidence in those (less experienced) tracking with them. Younger trackers learn from this. It strengthens their resilience to keep going.

It also means one feels safe. Even in unpredictable situations – such as when the animal charges or shows aggression.

6 They love teaching others

Both Renias and Karel are patient, dedicated teachers. They are devoted to growing the next generation of wildlife trackers.

It’s their calling to build up the youngsters. To ensure they are useful and economically active in their communities. This means growing skills. And filling them with confidence and exposing them directly to opportunity.

7 They are humble

This makes all the above possible. They are unassuming. Their tracking is not a demonstration designed to impress. Their ego seldom runs the show.

It also means they have compassion and empathy for their subject… to truly get ‘into the skin of the animal’.

Inspired by lessons from Master Trackers I reflected on what it would take to become a Master Leader. Imagine the positive effect on people’s lives. The value for organisations. This is an ideal worth striving for.

How about you… are you on track to become a master leader?

Use these 10 questions to reflect on your journey so far:

  1. Do you know what you are good at?
  2. Do you understand what your special talent is and play to this strength?
  3. Do you love what you do?
  4. Does your reward come from doing the work and not just what the work produces?
  5. Are you connected to the detail and fluent in the big picture?
  6. Are you constantly learning?
  7. Do your words and actions inspire hope and confidence?
  8. Do people feel safe around you?
  9. Are you actively growing the next generation of leaders?
  10. Do you have your ego in check?

Grant Ashfield

Grant runs a leadership consultancy in South Africa. With Alex, Renias and the team he’s devised an amazing interactive documentary package to help:

  • Revitalise your team – for the tough road ahead
  • Re-energise your leaders – and refocus on what’s important
  • Build team spirit – with interpersonal relationships and trust

Intrigued? See the video clip here.

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