A recent article in The Economist highlighted a fascinating new discovery about leopard seals.
Bear with me.
Over the years, divers encountering leopard seals in the wild reported that they would sometimes appear to be bringing them gifts of food, just like cats bring home mice as “presents” for their owners. But nobody could work out why the seals were doing this.
Then, drone footage taken on a recent expedition to the island of South Georgia in the Southern Ocean revealed that leopard seals regularly bring their latest kill, such as a penguin, to a partner on the shore.
One seal holds the penguin while the other takes a bite, and then they swap roles. This collaboration makes eating a large flightless bird significantly easier. And the observation led the expedition’s scientists to realize that the seals hadn’t been bringing the divers gifts at all – they had been inviting them to dinner.
Observe, then understand
Within organizations, it’s equally important to recognize that specific behaviors don’t always mean what we think they mean. So, rather than take them at face value, it’s worth investigating how certain behaviors could be interpreted differently, or what thoughts or beliefs might be driving them, before automatically applying what may, at first glance, seem to be the ‘obvious’ solution.
For example, is a new sales manager being overly aggressive with her colleagues because she is trying to make her presence felt? Or is she trying to cover up the fact that she needs help but is too embarrassed to ask for it? Your next course of action should be completely different depending on what is really going on.
Make a list of the behaviors, positive or negative, that are typical of how key people in your organization currently function. Take some time to consider possible explanations and what action might be required to change the behavior, or perhaps even replicate it in others if that could be valuable.
Then, select a test case, discuss your thoughts with the colleague in question, and drop me a mail at firstname.lastname@example.org to let me know what happened.
Copyright, Hamish Mackenzie 2019