Look Different like a Zebra/Cheetah

Let’s face it- the pace of change and speed of competition seems to be under the influence of performance enhancing drugs these days. Leaders are tasked to stay on top of change, build an internal organization, and develop a community around their brands and business. The multiple demands can be dizzying. Fortunately, a new guide is available to assist in navigating this difficult terrain.

Leadership and the Call of the Wild
A recently released book by Micheal Burt and Colby Jubenville, Zebras & Cheetahs, Look Different and Stay Agile to Survive in the Business Jungle, provides a unique perspective on how managers can simultaneously direct business strategy, organization culture, and customer relationships. Burt and Jubenville cleverly use analogies from the wild to illustrate how business leaders can learn from the jungle to discern vision, make decisions, and lead people. Among my favorite analogies are:

  • The Current of the Urgent– The daily pull of emails, meetings, phone calls,and other “priorities” can occupy the moment and remove our focus from what is really important to advance our business. While these activities can be checked off to-do lists, they can be like trying to swim against the current- you will work hard but not get very far!
  • The Tribe – Seth Godin popularized the notion of tribes as essential to our success whether it is cultivating advocates for our brand or developing employees. Burt and Jubenville define a tribe as “a group working together through struggle and success.” Does that not describe any organization? There are successes and failures, victories and losses. The tribe must persevere through all of those events to flourish.
  • The Zebra – A leader should be distinctive, standing out to the tribe and be recognized by others in the jungle. Like a zebra’s distinctive stripes, a leader should be perceived to be different than the rest.
  • The Cheetah – Agility is crucial in today’s hyper-competitive markets, but being fast is not necessarily what is needed. The Zebra and Cheetah (Z&C leader) move with what is called “deliberate speed.” Burt and Jubenville describe deliberate speed as rapid movement coupled with a sense of purpose and understanding. Such agility is influential in shaping behavior of the tribe and instill purpose in them, too.

Look Different

The takeaway from Zebras and Cheetahs with the greatest impact for me was a simple but powerful directive: Look different. Why did these two words resonate with me? They were powerful because the phrase contains dual meanings. One take on look different refers to the unique makeup of a Z&C leader (the book’s cover illustrates this application of look different). The book is an instruction manual on how managers can blend the distinctive qualities of the zebra and cheetah to stay agile and lead a tribe toward shared goals. The second take on look different is more of a mindset to employ in our professional lives- look different(ly) at the problems of customers, the challenges faced by employees, the ambitions of competitors, and the dynamics of the external environment. Most importantly, I must look different to fuel my  professional growth. Also, it is important to point out what look different is not– wild hair style, outrageous wardrobe, or outlandish behavior. Those are esoteric gimmicks, not authentic characteristics of a Z&C leader.
Your Z&C Trainers
Here is one more analogy from the jungle to ponder- Burt and Jubenville are the trainers who use Zebras and Cheetahs to coach us to reach for a higher level to be Z&C leaders. Micheal Burt believes “everybody needs a coach in life.” That includes those of us called on to be leaders ourselves. Leaders need to be nurtured and developed in order to advance their tribes. We have the capabilities to look different; Zebras and Cheetahs provides the map to navigate the concrete jungle and not only survive, but thrive.