Business Columns & Blogs

Business leaders, what are your lions in the grass?

You can’t get much further from Boise than an African safari: Thirty hours in transit with at least 23 hours on a plane.

But I always can learn something for business leaders, no matter where I go.

This time, I have lesson from safari guides who know how to find the “hard to see.”

I recently spent two weeks in the Okavanga Delta of Botswana, in southern Africa. Every day, we spent about eight or nine hours trying to uncover the “science of the wild,” as our guide, Spike Mooketsi, called it. He is an expert at finding elephants and Cape buffalo, shy leopards and rare roan antelope. But he excels in finding and following lions.

Spike’s “territory” covers about 77,000 acres. Imagine the challenge of finding a 14-lion pride in a savannah that size, bumping along in a specially outfitted Land Cruiser at 5-7 mph.

How does he do it?

He gets lots of help from the inhabitants themselves, starting with the lions’ tracks but continuing with signals from other creatures, from birds to giraffes, kudus to warthogs.

Spike starts by reading the “morning newspaper:” animal tracks left throughout the night in the dusty sand. Those tracks (if he finds some) can tell how fast (running or sauntering) lions traveled and in which direction, indicating how far away the lions could be. If a track was made around midnight, then insect or small-animal trails may appear on top of it by 6 a.m., suggesting the lions are now far from the trail.

He also listens for warning calls from birds, perched high in trees, that can see lions in the grass. He watches giraffes to see if they are all facing a certain direction and on alert. He looks for whether other animals are “out of their routines.” He also scouts for unusual patterns, colors, or shapes. He especially looks for movement.

In tall grass, lions seem to disappear. Amazingly, it’s hard to see, let alone hear, a 5-foot long, 300-pound lion. But if he has read the signs right, Spike will find them.

And there they are: the black backs of their ears, the twitching black tail tips, the rustling grass around them.

Sounds like what a business leader might need to consider, don’t you think?

Watching for the unexpected, finding the hard to see, by reading the signs: warning calls from customers, employees who might seem out of their routines, or odd movements or changes from competitors.

What lions do you need to be on the look out for? And how do you try to find them?