Last Saturday I was taking a cheetah for a walk. For me it was a profound, once in a lifetime experience. It’s led me to pondering on the idyllic life of their minders, and thinking about how perfect it can be when the job you do really plays to your strengths.
I was in Zambia, running a development centre. We had a day off, and visited the Chaminuka game reserve. The highlight for me was the chance to interact with two 6 month old cheetah cubs. I had no idea how kindly they would feel towards humans and began to run through my list of strengths to see if any would be of use to me.
The team were trying to reintroduce cheetahs to the wild. At the same time, they are using the cubs as part of an education programme. They take them to schools, to inspire the next generation to value these endangered species. The worst predators for cheetahs are, unsurprisingly, men. It was clear the handlers loved their job, had a passion for nature and also revelled in showing us humans how to respect these elegant creatures.
When working with leaders, we use the Clifton Strengthsfinder, a great tool for assessing key talents and strengths. It’s based on research around how our brains evolve in the first 13 or so years of our life. Pathways determined by our genes are strengthened through our experience and lead us to build talents. For example, some people acquire a thirst for learning; others may be driven to maximise their efforts in any walk of life. Or, you may love working one to one with people, or be a great communicator. All of these traits start early in life. Understanding them is key to finding the role that really suits you. When we play to our strengths, we quickly find ourselves in the zone, where time passes, and we achieve at our best.
One of my top 5 is a thing called ‘WOO’ – Winning Others Over. It means I love the challenge of meeting new people and winning them over. I derive satisfaction from breaking the ice and making a connection with another person. I wondered if this would extend to winning over cheetahs. I got on well enough – the cheetah I was stroking was purring in much the same way as a domestic cat, so I must have been doing something right.
The rest of the week was another fun event, working with leaders with potential who were discovering for themselves what strengths they had and planning how best to build on them to make the biggest contribution to their organisation and at the same time, create the best jobs and build their careers.
We left Zambia with the good wishes of our hosts and a warm satisfaction of having supported leaders to discover and deploy their strengths. What I really wanted to leave with was a cheetah cub.