This is the story of how the young man and the lion came to be at the zoo, through some surprisingly connected history.
The lion’s family had been in the zoo for many generations; too long to remember the life he evolved to be part of in deepest Africa. But, something deep inside the lion had not forgotten and he knew something was wrong. There are deeper memories than those held in the brain. This was the cause of his anger and restlessness. At the genetic level he felt a deep loss: a disconnection from his environment and his family. Over millions of years every cell in his body had evolved to be close to his environment on the grass lands of Africa; and close to his pride in deep intimate relationships. Unfortunately this was not the experience of the lion. His zoo was about as different as it was possible to be from the open spaces of Africa, with bars and keepers and humans watching his every move. Of course he was well fed but his two main relationships had been ripped away and the lion knew the zoo was not natural. It produced a deep sense of frustration which we see as pacing and other bizarre behaviour. A life of hopelessness.
The young man’s family had been living in cities for many generations; too long to remember the life they evolved to be part of as hunters and gatherers on the Savannah. But, something deep inside the young man had not forgotten and he knew something was wrong. There are deeper memories than those held in the brain. This was the cause of an anger and restlessness in the young man. It was why he had experimented with drugs and crime and why he was part of a gang. At the genetic level the young man felt a deep loss: a disconnection from his environment and his extended family. Over millions of years every cell in his body had evolved to be close to his environment and close to his tribe; indeed the worst possible punishment was to be banished from the tribe. Unfortunately this was not the experience of the young man. His city environment was about as different as it was possible to be from the open Savannah with pollution, cars, motorways, concrete, high-rises and graffiti his experience. And his family life was about as different as it was possible to be from the tribe with a small isolated, mixed nuclear family his experience. Of course the young man was well fed but his two main relationships had been ripped away and at the subconscious level, he had a similar deep sense of frustration, anger, greed, and self-interested behaviour often as bizarre and self-destructive as any in the zoo. A life of hopelessness.
Like the young man all human beings possess the need to feel significant and connected, yet many organisations manage to make their people feel just the opposite. The system is based on control, isolation and fear. Its nature is competitive, hard-nosed and cut-throat. People are in cubicles, departments and silos of power. Often power, ego, separation and fear dominate over care, love and cooperation. We seem to sublimate much of our human nature. People only wear their external skin; they have to, to live with some of the things they are required to do.
We are tiny fractions of what we could be. We need to listen, love, care and support each other more. We are in the cage every bit as much as the lion. In the cage most people just bring their body and their mind. So much is left behind. When we bring only part of ourselves, we are no longer fully human; the workplace environment this creates is not fit for humans and many of the products we produce are monstrosities.
Other organisations have found a better way to do business. They know most people are like unlocked treasure chests, all they need is someone with the key; so they believe in their people, more than the people believe in themselves. They value people above all else, even when the going gets tough. They nourish their people: body (more income), head (more learning), heart (more belonging) and soul (more meaning). They constantly discuss the meaning of the work and tie it to a higher purpose; knowing nearly everybody wants to be part of something that is bigger than themselves, make the world a better place, and leave a legacy. They encourage connections within the organisation, build structures where people come together and talk, where they can argue and discuss things. Tea rooms, water-coolers, lunch rooms, meeting rooms, social clubs and Christmas functions may be out of fashion but they are critical for expanding energy and communication within organisations. They understand that people like learning. They love to explore. They love to play. They don't like to be boxed in; so they think seriously about how they structure work. They see the organisation as "living" (not mechanical), obeying the "Laws of Living Systems." And then systematically and continually remove organisational barriers that hold people back. I've hardly ever seen a situation where the people don't want to do a good job; if they don't it's nearly always because systems or managers get in the way.
Twenty-five years ago I was in a corporate cage. I knew I had to get out and I knew I had to help others to get out too. It’s not that it was a particularly bad environment, indeed was well fed, but I was always conscious that I had far more to give than my job description demanded; I was using my skills but not my genius.
No wonder the young man looked at the lion and understood his frustration, anger and hopelessness. But how hopeless is the young man? Is there time to fix our environment? Can we learn to be more connected to each other again? Will more connection help solve the anger and dysfunction in our society? What is the role of business in all this? These are some of the issues I try to solve in my book and Cracking Great Leaders Program - it’s a bit deeper than most!