When your jeep first rolls through the plains in Africa, you are immediately dazzled by the muscle tone and vitality of the animals. As you watch a pride of female lions stalk zebras in the distance, you are mesmerized by their sleek, powerful bodies. With each step they take, their cut muscles ripple through their fur, while the scars on their bodies whisper of the battles that have brought them here. Their eyes reveal intensity unlike any you’ve ever seen and their whole bodies radiate attentive alertness to the slightest smells and sounds.

Walking through the local zoo is quite a different experience. There is a sedate atmosphere (ok, except for the chimpanzee cages) and the majority of animals are lying around like couch potatoes without a remote control. The animals’ bodies are flabby and weak, emanating their lethargic existence of being confined to such small living quarters. On the plus side, they don’t have to worry about where their next meal is coming from or being attacked by one of their natural predators. Interesting trade offs.

Where do you work—the jungle or the zoo?

In the jungle, competition for food dictates that only the very best will see tomorrow. There is no seniority or tenure in the wild. Contrast that with the many organizations that still cling to the ancient philosophy of seniority over merit.

In the zoo, there is no competition. Potential rivals are kept out of the cages and the animals have nothing to worry about. And that’s the problem. The word “compete” is derived from the Latin competere, meaning “to strive together.” When we have healthy internal competition, it raises our level of performance. Competition in the form of colleague performance, sales quotas, innovative products, etc. helps us “strive together” in order to realize our potential.

Winston Churchill once said: “First we shape our environment and then our environment shapes us.” When we consider the type of environment we work in and how it is shaping our mindset and behavior, does it resemble a jungle or zoo? If we are looking to develop a stronger, smarter and faster organization, we need to develop stronger, smarter and faster managers. After all, the lion’s highly coveted title isn’t “King of the Zoo.”

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