Why acting like a lion will help you win at work — and why no one should want to be a goat

The context: When tourists travel halfway around the world to go on safari, what do they want to see? Which animal is at the top of their list? Usually, it’s the lion. When they show pictures of their trip to friends back home, the first question they hear is, “Did you see any lions?”

All the big game animals in Africa are popular — elephants, giraffes, rhinos, hippos, and so on. But the lions always seem to draw the most attention and awe. In fact, if you come home without having seen a lion, you’ll almost certainly be disappointed with your entire trip.

Why is that? Lions are regal. They fear nothing. They’re powerful, yet poised. They don’t back down from a fight. Lions don’t put up with nonsense from anyone or anything. They stand their ground. They have strength, wisdom, prowess, maturity, and total confidence. Yet they also show leadership, tenderness, and compassion toward other members of their pride, especially young lion cubs.

Now, let’s talk about the goat

I understand that after comparing the regal lion with the pedestrian goat is laughable, right? The two could not be more different. But in the comparison, we can learn much about how to act in our corporate life.

Goats are prey. They’re not particularly talented at anything except appearing on a dinner table.

Goats can be light on their hooves and adeptly scamper up rocky mountain paths, they’re also restless and flighty. They get scared easily, then run away quickly. They’re fickle-minded, indecisive, and poor decision makers. They follow the herd. They never stand up for themselves, even if they’re in a large group.

Let’s compare these two animals in two different pressure situations. If you ever watch a lion being cornered or tranquilized as sometimes necessary on African game reserves for their own safety. Although cornered, the lion never shows fear.

Even when being shot with a tranquilizer, and probably thinking it’s going to die, the lion keeps its head held high. It never lowers its head in defeat. Unlike a frightened dog, the lion doesn’t bark, yip-yap, or squeal. It always projects confidence and strength, no matter how bleak things may look.

In contrast, the goat gives in without even putting up a fight. If you ever watch a goat being slaughtered, the goat would sense what is coming, puts its head down, and accepts its fate without protest or struggle. It didn’t even try to fight.

Compare the two. The lion holds its head high with defiance and pride. The goat bows its head in surrender. They’re clearly very different animals with completely different DNAs.

A lion at the office

As a corporate executive, or someone who soon will be, you would be well-served to step into the business archetype of the lion. Show a lion’s courage, strength, confidence, and endurance. Think of yourself as a powerful lion, never a skittish goat. It will be reflected in how you carry yourself and how you act in the office, in meetings, and with clients. It will influence how others perceive you, both in and out of the office. It will help you to overcome challenges and adversity and to keep your head held high. No matter what goes wrong, you will always remain strong, poised, and in control. Modeling the lion is one of the keys to a long and prosperous corporate career.

You’ll meet all kinds of negative people in your career, from backstabbers to complete jerks. You’ll experience obstructionists who want nothing more than to build walls in front of you and block your path. But if you maintain the characteristics discussed above, they will eventually realize who is the lion and who is the goat. They’ll treat you accordingly. In my experience, the world steps around you as it experiences you. Go through this world as a lion.

A lion is powerful, but only flexes its ample muscles when absolutely necessary. Overusing your strength when not required can be damaging to your reputation, and to others.

For example, an executive who is a lion would never berate a subordinate in front of colleagues, or even raise his voice unless there were no other options. Even then, a true lion would find another way to stay regal and dignified, while still getting the point across.

Lions are not condescending to waitstaff in restaurants, they don’t treat housekeeping with disrespect, they’re polite and respectful to flight attendants, and they never raise their voice or get aggressive, no matter how poor the service may be. They almost always use a light touch, while making it clear they won’t tolerate nonsense from anyone. Goats can be noisy, they bleat (which sounds like the cry of a human baby), they scamper in haste, and they always back down. Lions do not.

Many people have compared the corporate world to a Jungle. It can be scary at times. But the rewards are worth it. If you’re not up for it, remember: not everyone has to be a lion. The world needs goats, too, and we all love a good biryani!

Vishal Agarwal is the bestselling author of Give to Get. As a Senior Leader, he has navigated corporate life for the past 24 years. He has served as a Top Global Executive for General Electric and as a senior leader at Pricewaterhouse Cooper (PwC). Agarwal has navigated all facets of corporate life — from building teams and delivering value to translating multinational visions into local wins.