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Posted: April 01, 2010

On management: “I want to be a lion!”

So said Apolo Ohno at the Winter Olympics

Pat Wiesner

Only one hour after we had landed at the little airport just outside of the game park in South Africa it was getting dark, and we were in an open Land Rover headed for the jungle. All this happened about 15 years ago, but I always remember it like it was yesterday because it was such a strong, vivid experience.

There were seven people in the Rover, five of us clients, a native spotter who was on a raised seat in the back middle, and the guide, who drove. We stopped to watch the sun go down, which was worth the entire trip in itself. Then off we went into the total darkness of the nighttime jungle with our imaginations working furiously to picture what was waiting for us just outside the small circles of light created by our headlamps.

It began when we heard the low barking kind of growl of the lions that shook the earth, the air and even the trees. This frightening sound got louder and louder until it seemed we were in the middle of the hunt. There they were! Clearly lit by our headlights and a spotlight on top of the Rover. And they were very close, four big females and one even bigger male lagging behind.

They didn't pay any attention to the light as they were going about their business. We were no farther than 20 feet from the closest. Earlier the guide had told us that we would be OK as long as we stayed in the Rover; the lions were used to it and considered it just another animal.

The male decided to take a rest. He lay down without paying the slightest attention to the females. He just sat there and yawned a few times. It is one of the pictures we snapped (either my wife or I), and we still have it enlarged and displayed in our study. It looks like he was going to take a big bite of something, but he was merely yawning.

The females were the hunters. You could tell; they were really paying attention. Suddenly they all leapt into a large clump of bushes. Out came a springbok, followed by three ferocious lionesses that would not be denied a meal. It was brutal, final, bloody and natural. The male yawned once more and joined them after the hard work was done.

You can't say "lion" to me without me thinking of these magnificent animals and their strength, persistence, frightening power and resolve. We have traveled to quite a few places in the world, but when we think of places we would like to return, Africa is the one on the top of the list.

FINDING THE LION WITHIN

While being interviewed at the Olympic Games in Vancouver, Apolo Ohno was asked why he yawned repeatedly while getting ready to race. He said that it relaxed him and that he had seen lions do it and he said, "I want to be a lion!"

I think this helped him become the most decorated American Winter Olympian. Self-image is part of what we all bring to the table every day. We accomplish what we think we can accomplish. We have the personality that we see in ourselves. We need to decide who we want to be and then set specific goals to get there.

Even more important is the effect we have on the self-image of those around us. There is nothing more fragile, as we all know, than a person's self-image. We have a lot to say about that fragility in all the people we know and work with. Particularly if we are a boss or a parent. We will always do better and so will those around us if we find ways to make people feel good about themselves. A very wise man once told me to "help people see themselves in the light of a strength of which they were unsure or unaware, hopefully related to the person they dream of becoming."

If we want to be successful in business as salesmen, managers or whatever, we must see ourselves with the strengths to achieve our goals. We certainly don't have to have the lion illusion, but we must see ourselves in light of our strengths and then build our experience and abilities to make us into the men and women we would be.

It's how to succeed in our jungle.

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Pat Wiesner is the retired CEO of WiesnerMedia, publisher of ColoradoBiz. He still leads sales training for the company. E-mail him at pwiesner@cobizmag.com.

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