The topic of influential authority versus positional authority comes up often in my discussions with leaders. Not long ago though, it came up in an unexpected context.
Recently, I had the opportunity to spend some time with Dr. Birute Galdikas, renowned primatologist and one of the world’s leading experts in orangutans. Just as Jane Goodall did for chimpanzees and Dian Fossey did for mountain gorillas, Dr. Birute has devoted her life to learning about and protecting orangutans. As a (not-so-secret) all-things natural science geek all my life, meeting and conversing with her was definitely a bucket list item for me! When Dr. Birute learned that I run a leadership development consultancy, she started drawing parallels between primate behaviour and leadership, and shared several behavioural examples and stories.
Mike, the chimpanzee, and his rising status
One story in particular stuck with me, likely because her telling of it was so funny. She told me about Mike, a chimpanzee that had been observed by Dr. Jane Goodall for many years. Mike was a young male in a troupe, and quite submissive to all the other males. That is, until one day when he accidentally discovered how he could intimidate all the other chimpanzees. He started batting a gasoline can around, and realized quickly that all the loud thuds and irritating banging noises made the other chimpanzees nervous and apprehensive of him. With some practice, Mike was able to run down the narrow forest Continue reading