There’s an amazing video entitled How Wolves Change Rivers (found here) that demonstrates how the reintroduction of wolves at Yellowstone National Park not only changed animal behavior, but the behavior of the landscape. It’s truly remarkable, and in just four-and-a-half minutes, you learn everything you need to know about what it looks like to be a leader and what true leadership means. You might have the initial reaction that since the focus of the story is the behavior of wolves, and wolves are often synonymous with fear, that their tactics mirror what we think of when we envision bullying archetypes. Nothing could be further from the truth. Communication in the form of language is a burden we humans bear, and as a result, we feel the need to use our words to express our expectations. That’s how we tend to lead: telling, asking, demanding, suggesting, advising, coaching, etc. We lead through language – Wolves lead through presence.
Without ever uttering a word, they changed the entire environment around them. Even if they could speak, they would only be able to speak wolf. Assume even the brightest of wolves may know a few other animal languages; they may be fluent in deer, bear, elk and know some colloquial squirrel and a few phrases of beaver. Even so, they would be unable to communicate with any species of birds, fish, plants, flowers or trees. In reality, they are outnumbered and unable to communicate through anything other than what they know; how to behave as a wolf.
Just by showing up, their presence over time improved the well-being of an entire national park. Wolves being wolves, helped deer be better deer, bears be better bears, beavers be better beavers, etc. And this, in turn, helped bring in new forms of life and allowed for older forms of life to thrive again. And this, in turn, helped the vegetation be better at providing nourishment for all this new life, and the river itself changed to be a better wellspring.
By now, the pessimists are thinking about all the death that naturally accompanies such bountiful life. In all life there are both predators and prey. The difference is that in nature, animals are acting on instinct. Animals are not murders; there is no evil intent. Life feeds on life.
Leadership is showing up and being what you are. If what you are holds value where you happen to be, then positive changes will happen simply as a result of you being there. How you choose to live will always tell the truth. Be careful with what you choose to say, however, because that will always reveal the lies you tell yourself and others about how you think you live. Your words will never be more powerful than your actions. Your silent actions have the capacity to bring about tremendous change. The only problem for humans here is that when you succeed, you’ll never be aware that you were the root cause. You’ll never get credit for it. Humans struggle with this idea, because our worth is often so tied up in what we own or accomplishments we can add to a résumé. Wolves don’t know or care about that. Wolves, just being wolves, put humans to shame, and are better leaders than we will ever be, but you’ll never hear them bragging about it.