CCA President Ellen Kleinstuber

Lessons from the Animal Kingdom

September 26, 2022

Written by: Ellen Kleinstuber

A couple of years ago I was searching for a book to share with my work team as an end-of-year thank you gift that might also motivate them in the new year. I came across the website,, and have since been hooked on their books. In their curated collection of books, some of the authors have catchy ways of expressing leadership development principles. Here are a few books that resonate with me from the Simple Truths collection and other sources. 

You Can’t Send a Duck to Eagle School (Mac Anderson)

This is the first book that caught my attention, and it’s made a big difference in how I manage people and recruit team members. The title is a quote from an executive at an unnamed company known for exceptional customer service. When the author asked about the presumed intensive training manual they have, the executive surprises him by saying they have no training manual. Instead, they recruit people who have the right qualities to be successful in customer service – they naturally smile, they want to serve and they have personality. These are things you cannot teach. You can, however, teach about products or services, and organizational culture. 

If you try to turn a duck into an eagle, you’re going to:

  • Frustrate the duck because they will feel like they can’t live up to your expectations,
  • Frustrate the eagles because they must manage around the duck’s shortcomings, and
  • Frustrate yourself because the team isn’t succeeding.

This doesn’t mean that ducks aren’t important and don’t provide value. It only means they aren’t eagles, any more than they aren’t dogs or cats. If your company’s purpose is to herd sheep, would you rather hire a dog or a cat?   

When you put the right people in the right roles you help them find their purpose. When you empower them to do the things that will gain the desired results, you position them for success. 

Eat That Frog! (Brian Tracy)

The premise behind this book is an old saying that if the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning is eat a live frog then nothing worse will happen for the rest of the day. From a leadership development perspective, this author parlays that analogy into a discussion of getting organized by being decisive, disciplined and determined in managing the myriad of tasks that face us daily.

What is the “frog” on your to do list? It’s the thing you acknowledge as important and find most challenging or you dread doing. If you “eat that frog” first, there’s energy that comes from knowing the worst is behind you, which can propel you through the other things on your list. Often, after it is done, you realize that you imagined it being worse than it really was. 

Once you experience setting priorities and better managing your time, you’ll find increased momentum and motivation to accomplish more than you thought you could.

Unchain the Elephant (Erik Wahl)

If, at an early age, an elephant is not allowed to roam free, they quickly learn that it is futile to try. As they age and become stronger, it is easier to keep them restrained because they were conditioned that there is no point in trying to escape. They simply stop trying … until a predator comes along. At that point, the “fight or flight” reflex kicks in and the elephant, that wants to live, chooses to fight. Nothing is strong enough to restrain or overcome a charging elephant. In that moment, the elephant has overcome the self-limiting belief that they cannot act, move quickly or escape. 

Humans also have self-limiting beliefs, collected over the years, that hold us back from reaching our full potential. Limiting beliefs quiet our creativity and curb our passion. By charging with the force of a threatened elephant toward those self-limiting beliefs we change our thinking and free ourselves to reach our full potential. 

Don’t Feed the Elephants! (Sarah Noll Wilson)

We’ve all experienced an elephant in the room, something everyone sees or feels that feeds on the team’s energy and drags it down if not faced head-on. When there is an elephant in the room, conflict stifles open communication and damages relationships. The goal isn’t to make the elephants extinct – they are a normal part of human behavior. What we can do is learn to identify them and resolve the conflicts that arise. Doing this creates a safe place for open discussion about things that make us uncomfortable so we can grow.

On her website the author provides a free overview of the different types of elephants and how they affect team dynamics. If you want to know the secrets to dealing with these creatures, you’ll need to read the book.

Even Eagles Need a Push (David McNally)

Just because someone has the raw qualities needed to graduate from eagle school doesn’t mean they fully realize what they are capable of accomplishing. Think about an eagle’s first flight, for example. It starts with the mother eagle standing behind her baby and pushing it out of the nest. Until the baby eagle is pushed, it doesn’t understand that it can fly. 

We all have opportunities to take risks, which require courage, confidence, and commitment to our goals and purpose. Sometimes we need a little nudge to get started. As leaders, we usually have a perspective that our team members do not. Whether it’s believing in someone enough to push them out of the nest for their first flight or being there to provide encouragement as new firsts arise, leaders support their team by challenging them to find and use their unique gifts. Be their coach and help them soar!

As leaders, it is our responsibility to support, guide, teach and nurture our teams in various ways. It is our job to create “safe” working environments for open discussion and conflict resolution, encourage our employees to challenge their boundaries and explore unknown territory, break the chains by helping them learn new skills, and celebrate everyone’s unique skills and talents. When these things are happening, we all succeed. 

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