Steven L. Katz is the author of Lion Taming: Working Successfully with Leaders, Bosses and Other Tough Customers. He intersperses real lion tamer advice from circus performers with advice on how to work with powerful leaders in business. In part one, I wrote about why learning how to work with lions can benefit your career. Just like performing in a circus act, your corporate lion taming act can be exhilarating, as long as you follow some basic guidelines.
First, understand that a lion feels safest when he is secure in his territory and his dominance. If a lion is feeling threatened by competitors, it will be hard to keep him focused on the task at hand. Your best strategy is never to make the lion feel diminished; let her feel like a lion. Let her roar, if she needs to roar.
Be prepared to “work big,” as true lion tamers will advise you. Lions are predators and competitors; they are very alert to intruders into their territory. Tamers say: “Intense curiosity will provoke a quick attack.” Lions express interest in something new by “sinking their teeth into it” (literally.) Be prepared to be tested by your corporate lion. “Working big” means being willing to stand your ground, no matter how scared you might be in the moment. Lion tamers know how to approach without looking like a challenger and when to retreat from a lion without looking like prey.
Two essential corporate lion taming tools: knowing how to keep your boss focused on what’s important and knowing how to buy yourself time in a difficult discussion or meeting. The chair that lion tamers used in the ring was meant to make the tamer look bigger than he or she actually was – to give the big cats pause before they pounced. That split second of extra time gave the tamer a chance to react or retreat. Lion tamers also mastered the art of roaring back at the lion, charging forward suddenly in order to startle the lion out of his attack.
Contrary to the modern interpretation of “cracking the whip,” the whip is not a tool used to intimidate or hurt the lion. According to circus lion tamers, attacking a lion or making him insecure is almost sure to provoke an attack. The whip’s crack is meant to redirect the lion’s attention; to keep him focused on what’s happening in the ring and direct him away from whatever might have distracted him.
If your boss is a true lion, there will be many people vying for his attention. Most will not understand how to hold the lion’s attention or how to avoid being eaten. You can learn from their mistakes. There’s a reason that lion cages in the circus ring are circular; lions don’t like to be cornered. Nothing will provoke an attack faster than making a lion feel trapped; when he feels trapped, he’s dangerous. Let him return to his pedestal (or office) where he feels dominant and in control. He’ll be more productive and will be less likely to fight with the other lions.
Are you a lion? You don’t need to be a boss to be a lion; there are lions at all levels of a company. If you recognized yourself, you might need to master some of these skills as well. There may be many lions in an organization, but there is generally only one lion king. If you are not the biggest of the big cats, lion taming will be essential to your survival. If you are a lion surrounded by good people, I hope that you’ll look at them in a different way (not as dinner or cat toys.) Pay attention to the person in the corner with a whip and a chair. She’s here to make sure that no one gets hurt and that everyone gets to take their bow in the end.