Six Leadership Lessons Startups can Learn from the Jungle

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Welcome to the jungle. Here, the survival of the fittest is the ultimate truth. The weaker or lesser alert animal gets eaten in what is considered a natural food chain. Just that simple. The jungle teaches us lessons that are timelessly closer to the competitive life elsewhere.

Sreedhar Bevara

Like the famous saying goes “Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up, it knows it must outrun the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the slowest gazelle, or it will starve. It doesn't matter whether you're the lion or a gazelle-when the sun comes up, you'd better be running.”

This is the real essence of the corporate world and in specific, the startup life. While the mortality rate for a startup is phenomenally high, survival remains a humongous challenge even after surviving the nascent years. Survival of the fittest comes to full life here and let us take how we can address to stay afloat in the business perhaps by taking a few lessons from our friends in the jungle. Especially in the area of decision-making that determines the key to survival.

1) Separate the signal from the noise but only through sensory abilities like a snake. Snakes don’t have ears but they are very highly perceptive because they put their sensory organs to good use. Startups must use the same approach with their limited resources. Also, snakes take a lot of effort to make venom and they don’t simply use all of that in each bite. They use it so very sparingly and their bite means business. Corporates should understand when to apply the real bite that can catch the prey. This speaks about decision-making on when to go for the kill.

2) Size doesn’t matter: Coordination does like in the case of wild dogs: King of the jungle may be the beast and the boastful lion. But when it comes to coordination and kill’s success rate, wild dogs almost never have to sleep hungry. They can fight against a size that’s far larger to them and their ability to coordinate among the groups is phenomenal. Their success rate when it comes to hunting is more than 80% far larger than the 30% of the lions. Also, they let kids eat first unlike the male lion which takes the bite first. There’s a lot for startups to seek from wild dogs when it comes to wage the fight like underdogs. The leader of the pack is always there but they depend on the coordination and strength of each from the pack more than the leader. Startups can keep the tasks smaller and simpler to take them down one by one, instead of always planning for that elusive big thing.

3) Strategic over tactful approach like Mongoose: mongoose is generally adept at fighting venomous snakes, of course, it is built to fight mostly. In reality, the mongoose is not the fastest or strongest when pitted against the snake. It’s because of its strategy to use its body and character against the snake that’s noteworthy. Mongoose always attacks the snake from behind and makes lateral movements. Snake can be lethal when it comes to attacking from upfront. With mongoose against a snake is made to make lateral movements which it is not great at and eventually is tired with reduced speed. That’s when the mongoose starts building up on the domination. Learning for startups is not always having to fight upfront but wage wars that are sensible and suited to their strengths. Knowing our strengths and using them to win is the most sensible thing instead of burning out. It's not about not wanting to compete with established but one must be aware of what we are attacking and why? Competing with established consumes the fuel at greater speed and can come to halt at once.

4) Size may make them less agile but their ability to cut the clutter by sensing the right signals works best for Elephants: Elephants are not only bigger in size but are also known to be intelligent along with symbolic loads of memory. Elephant's ability to sense things is not only limited to its ears but also trunk and feet make it a special animal to emulate. Elephants with their extraordinary sensory faculties can walk towards the rain, something they relish a lot. Startups need to be able to keep their sensory organs intact to make them full when it comes to decision-making. Sometimes we may look bigger than what we actually can last but those are the times we need to be equally cautious to stay alert in terms of what is the call and what juncture. Elephants are also known to have a great bonding among the members and this is another thing the startup teams should emulate form. Such bonding can help depend freely on others when the times are tougher to move.

5) No matter how big or small, how strong or weak without a razor focus like Eagle, you’re going to be consumed sooner or later. Eagles are known to be special birds not just for their sharp vision but mostly for their razor-sharp focus on the targets. No matter how higher they soar but their sharp focus keeps them clear of any distractions. Startups' biggest challenge is to get distracted by several happenings in the surroundings. It’s not easy to stay calm and poised with a purposeful target. Focus is one thing that startups cannot afford to lose out on and Eagle teaches that effortlessly. Choosing the target, staying focused on it, and waiting for the right time to attack is something that comes impeccably strong and startups need to develop such an attitude to remain in the game.

6) Lion is the beast of the animals and king of the jungle for a reason. Leadership filled with attitude, courage, and determination to take on: Lion isn’t a king for a reason. Its attitude makes him the king of the jungle. It’s fierce when it comes to determination and once decided it will not step back from the attack. It has a belief system that it's born to rule and every startup must have such an attitude that they are here to survive and rule. While every other factor we discussed above is important; self-belief and a confident attitude are essential to survival. While one must be good at planning, there’s nothing wrong to feel strong about our preparation, our strengths, and our capabilities. A challenging attitude can turn the tide and make the champions. Lion is often a symbolic presence for the stronger leadership and the leaders of the startups need to demonstrate extraordinary courage and grit to stay in the game. It’s not for weak souls and shaky mindsets. The team looks up the leader and here what it makes a break or make times. It certainly takes a lion’s attitude to run the show from the front, no matter what’s coming.

In the jungle or the corporate world or anywhere where life is competitive and where life thrives to progress, it automatically roars. It’s not about winning and losing. Roaring is to simply survive and in this highly competitive world roaring needs to be the fundamental quality of a startup especially. Roaring means, fully knowing well about the situation one is in and applying the best approach to stay alive. Such an approach requires alertness, focus and consistent effort for the effort alone can help surviving chances.

(Sreedhar Bevara is a bestselling author, having written Moment of Signal and very recently, The Roaring Lambs.)