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Leadership Story – Some leaders think they are tough and effective, but…

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Tiger – Indian Legend – Some Leaders Think They Are Tough

Some leaders think they are tough, however…

I love the old legend from India that tells about a mouse who was terrified of cats until a  magician agreed to transform him into a cat. That resolved his fear…until he met a dog, so the magician changed him into a dog. The mouse-turned-cat-turned-dog was content until he met a tiger – so, once again, the magician changed him into what he feared. But when the tiger came complaining that he had met a hunter, the magician refused to help. “I will make you into a mouse again, for though you have the body of a tiger, you still have the heart of a mouse.”

How many of us would admit that we are in the skin of a tiger, but our heart is that of a mouse?  We talk tough, but we are afraid to follow through with action. We believe it is important at times to be direct and honest with those we lead, but we avoid conflict. Or how about the other extreme – you lead by shouting, yelling and throwing tantrums and lack the courage to admit you are wrong. Or lack the courage to put aside your pride and exhibit patience and kindness.

I am sure you know a leader or two like the above, maybe yourself. All through the life of such leaders one skin is traded for another. With every new skin comes new responsibilities or positions that make this leader feel he or she is a cat, dog or tiger, but fundamentally inside they might remain a mouse, lacking important courage.

The new position or title might impress people initially, and a leader might feel like he or she has power. However, great leaders don’t seek power for the hope that it will provide more recognition, honor and glory, or a skin for the hope it will provide more courage, but they seek it to positively affect the lives of others. Great leaders have the skin of the tiger in terms of position, but they also have the heart as well. They do things because it is the right thing to do regardless of how difficult it might be. They act with courage because they care.

A leader can change his or her own skin as often as he or she would like, but a leader’s integrity, character and heart will have to be intact with the skin in order to be effective.

Do you have any stories you could share of leaders with the skin of a tiger and the heart of a mouse? We would love to hear them. Please comment below.

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Here are other posts you might enjoy from the past related to leadership and courage.

Do you struggle providing employees difficult feedback? It may be due to selfishness on your part.

Leaders – To be the best, don’t practice like the rest.

Leaders Care – Video

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Leave a Comment

  • rita jaskolla December 8, 2010, 4:46 am

    I agree to your mouse-tiger-mouse story and will add the view of a non leader but strong character in terms of the daily interaction with leaders:
    some leaders with the heart of a mouse seek for the same business-clone of themself, to bring into their team. This business clone is way younger and carries the same attitudes. He/she is thankful for being invited to be in the boat while the leader feels great because there is no competitor around.
    Result: a safe place at work!
    Looking at it like looking at a picture, it displays a dog or tiger who built a small cage for two mice.

  • Mike Rogers December 10, 2010, 8:29 am

    Ah, that us good Rita. This creates more dysfunction because the leader didn’t have the courage to hire other different than him or her self. Thanks for your comment.

  • Jose Garcia January 4, 2011, 11:53 am

    One thing I observe is leaders with the heart of a mouse tend to whine and complain to someone else to take action about whatever they are afraid of

  • Rena Leigh January 5, 2011, 7:24 pm

    I ran a day long workshop a few years ago about Project Leadership as opposed to Project Management. In it we spent time distinguishing the world “Leader” from “Manager”. The word “manager” illicited quite a number of neutral and negative responses. The word “leader” illicited only highly positive responses. My personal opinion is that no one can make themselves a leader although they can put themselves into leadership roles. Leaders are named and claimed by those that they lead, not by the role they occupy. To truly be a leader, others must see you as such. Otherwise you are only a mouse in a tiger skin. Or, too often, a bully in a leadership role.

  • Mike Rogers January 6, 2011, 7:19 pm

    Thanks Jose and Rena for your comments. Others will see you as leaders once your heart is right.

  • Lorne Davis January 20, 2011, 8:21 pm

    Thanks for thought provoking article. Key point is as a leader and manager, you need to have multiple skins (as long as you maintain your integrity) – one skin does not fit all. Different skins are more effective with different people (e.g. not effective to lead/manage different individuals always in the same manner) and for different situations. Part of that is taking the time to understand the nature of who and what you are dealing with and adapting to get the best result that all involved benefit from. Thanks again.

  • Mike Rogers January 20, 2011, 8:22 pm

    Great points Lorne. You do need to change into different skins as long as what is beneath the skin is solid and as you mention and is filled with integrity. I have often coached folks on what you just pointed out. If we aren’t willing to adapt and manage to different personalities than you will struggle to lead effectively. You can’t provide what I call “Blanket” leadership. Every person you manage is different and the good leader recognizes that and adapts accordingly.

  • Jackie Strobel July 29, 2012, 8:10 am

    Great post Mike. Have you been watching me? It takes a lot of effort on my part to operate and lead in the middle or another term ‘assertiveness’. I have made great strides in improving in this area, but it has come with a cost – being ‘humbled’ by a great leader above me. Being too passive or too aggressive is not healthy, productive nor demonstrates good leadership abilities. The key points you mentioned: integrity, character and HEART are vital. A leader possessing integrity with no heart is weak. A leader possessing heart with no integrity is weak. A leader possessing both integrity and heart builds a strong character that gets results. A ‘Good’ leader, in turn, replicates himself as others see what a good leader looks like. At the end of the day, isn’t that what we want? To make a difference in others lives to make mediocre employees into good leaders? It should.

  • Barry Jackson July 30, 2012, 12:32 am

    Hi, Everyone,
    Here’s a parable you may not have heard.It’s one of my favourites.
    A man once prayed to God that he should become wise. The Lord answered his prayer. “Take the path that into the jungle. Follow it until you come to a clearing and there I will show you what it means to be wise.”
    When the man reached the clearing, he saw that a fox was sitting there. The fox was clearly afraid of him but made no attemptto run away. When he approached, he saw that the poor creature was unable to escape because it had lost both its back legs. He was intrigued, however, to see that it was otherwise in excellent condition when it ought to have been starving, given its inability to hunt.
    At that moment, he heard low, menacing growl and dived for cover just as a huge and magnificent tiger appeared, carrying a haunch of meat. The tiger placed the haunch beside the fox and only when the injured animal had eaten his fill did the tiger finish what was left.”Wow. That’s amazing,” the man said to himself.
    When he returned home he spoke again to the Lord about what he’d seen and the Lord said, “Now go and do likewise.”
    The following day, the man returned to the clearing, this time carrying a sharp knife. Sure enough, the tiger appeared once more and when it did, the man dragged himself towards the carcass as if his legs were disabled; but as he approached the meat, intending to carve a piece for himself, the tiger roared and drove him away. Each day he made another attempt, but each time, the result was the same until, after a week, the tiger became so annoyed that he charged the man who ran for his life and escaped only because the tiger allowed him to do so. When he got home he spoke again to the Lord. “Lord you answered my prayer and I have done likewise but now I am starving and if I go back again the tiger will surely take my life.” “My son,” the Lord replied, “When I told you to do likewise, I wanted you to imitate the tiger not the fox.”

  • Mike Rogers July 30, 2012, 11:13 am

    Excellent point Jackie. You are right, at the end of the day we all (leaders) want to be making an impact and difference on people’s lives. That’s what leadership is all about. We just have to ensure our heart is in the right place. If it is everything else will follow.
    Barry, that is a great story! Thanks for sharing. I might use that in an upcoming blog posting if that’s okay?

  • Alex Dail July 30, 2012, 2:05 pm

    The point you’re article for me made best is to overcome being a mouse is to seek to benefit another – love conquers fear. When we do it for ourselves, our business, or to please someone like a boss or spouse courage may be hard to find. When we do it out of a deep sense of caring about another person courage is easier to come by.

  • Mike Rogers August 2, 2012, 5:35 pm

    Alex, absolutely! Check out this post of mine
    Included in it is a true story of two of my children that demonstrate this.


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