Turtles, Hares, and Sharks: Leadership Lessons from Nature.

I recently listened to a motivational speech, as I do in the morning to get myself pumped up and ready for the day. It was by a speaker named Walter Bond, and he talked about sharks. Not the kind of thing you’d expect to hear in a motivational speech, but it made sense in the end.

You see, sharks don’t breathe like we do. We can sit on the couch, at our computer, or in our bed and still breathe. Whether we move or we sit, we are still able to breathe just fine.

Sharks, on the other hand, need to keep moving to breathe and stay afloat in the water.

As the sharks propel themselves forward, oxygen-rich water flows into their gills, enabling them to breathe as they swim. They can’t breathe while sitting still unless they are surrounded by a lot of oxygen-rich water. Plus, sharks also can’t stop swimming forward.

They can’t move backward when they swim, and if they end up hitting something, they have to swerve to get around it. Stopping on a dime isn’t something they do.

Sharks are a lot like leaders. How many leaders have three or more jobs next to their name? It seems like everyone is an author, speaker, entrepreneur, and and and. That’s because those people are sharks, always hungry for the next opportunity. Sharks and leaders don’t move backward, but instead, keep swimming forward to the next challenge.

I’m going to be honest; I try to be a shark in my daily life. I’m always hungry for more. I became a freelance writer, now I’m trying to become a copywriter, and once I master that I’m aiming to learn about SEO and keywords. Along with several other things I want to master that will help me make money and build an audience.

But some days I feel like a minnow in a pool of sharks. Take this article for instance, right this minute there are dozens of other writers who are doing the same thing I am. All these people have more followers, more readers, more influence than I do, and even though I know I can become a shark with enough hard work and effort… it can still be difficult to see myself as a shark on some days.

Copywriting, music, podcasting, and everything else I want to do, a million other people have done before. While I know you have to start somewhere and grow into a great leader, it can be a little hard to see myself as a shark while I’m next to all the other sharks of the world. Being dwarfed by their shadows and influence in the ocean I’m trying to carve a home out of.

However, that brings me to the second part of the story. As I listened to that speech about the shark, I thought a second about the fable “The Tortoise and the Hare.” It’s a short fable so I’ll quickly recount it here:

“A hare would always boast that he was the fastest creature in the wood, especially to his friend the tortoise who was very slow. Finally, sick of his friend’s boasting, the tortoise challenged his friend to a race. They gathered all the woodland creatures together and decided to hold the race one sunny day. The fox, who had decided to become the referee, pointed down a distance and said that that would be where they would find the finish line.”

“Right as the race started, the hare shot off and began running down the path, going down at top speed as the tortoise began plodding along nice and slow. The hare made it around 3/4ths of the way down the path, before looking back to see that the tortoise was nowhere to be found. Deciding to pause under the shade of an oak tree, he began eating his lunch and then let his heavy eyelids droop under the warm sun.”

“As the hare slept, the tortoise kept walking along before he passed the hare, continuing to go towards the finish line. When the tortoise began to get closer to the finish line, the assembled animals began cheering for the tortoise. The hare was woken up by the cheers, and although he ran his swiftest to pass the tortoise, he was unable to do so and the tortoise proved that slow and steady can win the race.”

A lot of people focus on the tortoise when talking about the story, but I’d like to shift the focus to the hare. You see, while the story is about how slow and steady wins the race, it also shows a lot about hard work and talent.

The hare is made to be fast. Every part of its body is designed for speed and the ability to move faster than the animals that want the hare for lunch. If it hadn’t fallen asleep, it would have won that race. It’s naturally faster than the turtle. The hare was born with speed.

Some people are born with insane talent, they are hares, and they run forward into life at such speed it makes them seem impossible to catch. But sometimes they also get lazy and think that they are so far ahead that no one can catch up to them and they stop.

They rest on their laurels, become trapped by their own success, and end up remaining still. If those hares were to morph into sharks, they wouldn’t be moving, and since they aren’t moving, they’d die.

On the other end of the spectrum are the tortoises, where they might not be born with a lot, but they do have a lot of patience, willpower, and the ability to march forward no matter the odds or how slow they start out. These turtles morph into the shark that’s always hungry, that’s always moving, and they keep swallowing bigger and bigger goals.

I’m not saying that one mentality is better than the other, but it’s all a matter of how you carry yourself as a leader. What kind of shark will you turn into? What race will you run?

The race where you are so far ahead you eventually stop, confident that no one will pass you only to wither on the vine, or the race where the finish line keeps moving and you are always learning as a lifelong student?

If you are a hare, then keep running, because one day that tortoise is going to pass you if you remain still. If you are a tortoise, then just keep going because you’ll make it, no matter how long it takes.

You are eventually going to have to think of yourself as a shark, but are you going to sink or swim?

Since I happen to have a fear of drowning, I’ll go with swimming any day of the week.

What will you decide?