Wild Animals and Leadership

What can wild animals teach us about leadership? Much!!!

"...My conclusion is that animal societies, and the individuals within these, thrive or fail by the quality of their leadership..."

Erna Walraven 2019

Some more questions that need answering, ie

"...- What makes a good leader in the animal domain?
    - What are the most common beneficial traits of wild animal leaders?
    - Why do animals follow a particular leader?
    - Does or should any of this matter to us?..."

Erna Walraven 2019

Leaders and followers have been observed in nearly all mammalian ancestors. This indicates that humans share a common feature with our closest kinfolk in the mammalian ancestors; there are 2 interesting examples, ie chimpanzees and bonobos.


They are are very similar to humans, ie

"...they use all the tricks of politics to gain and retain power. Chimps are very clear about their desire for power and privileges it brings (mostly a sexual nature) and the way they use alliances to this purpose would give Machiavelli something to think about. Chimpanzees groups are ruled by a dominant male who often fights for the position. The alpha position is tenuous and stressful with many challenges and a lot of responsibilities. Male chimpanzees use three strategies to gain and keep power: brute strength and intimidation, intelligence and political alliances..."
Erna Walraven 2019

An successful alpha male can rise to the top through violence and intimidation and then use emotional intelligence to maintain his position, ie he aims to keep everyone in his troop happy, eg he will groom those he seeks to influence, share food, and play with the babies to impress their mothers.

Building alliances mainly revolves around the alpha male maintaining good relationships with other powerful males.

"...Males in the power coalition spent nearly all the time together: they groom, share food and back one another during fights.....Being a good chimpanzee leader is hard work. There are many demands on this individual who has to nurture his relationships in the clan to keep top job. Chimp troops are reciprocal societies: favours are exchanged and a good alpha male is the hub of this, making sure he includes everyone..."

Erna Walraven 2019

An alpha male who relies on strength and intimidation does not last as long as one who works on emotional intelligence and political alliances.

"...Chimp leadership is about protecting the troop and maintaining harmony. This is done by settling disputes fast, consoling the distressed, and ensuring a fair distribution of resources..."

Erna Walraven 2019

It is more than just impregnating as many females as possible!!!!!

However only around half of the chimp males survive to adulthood. In chimp troops there are two adult females for every male


They are more egalitarian than the chimps; with females dominating. There is less respect for hierarchy when compared with chimps who are more into displays of rank. In fact it is harder to establish who the alpha female is as there is not much reason to display dominance in a more peaceful community.

"...The proposition.......respect for the knowledge of the leader, not through aggression..."

Erna Walraven 2019

"...primary bonding is the same-sex kin in the natal group; the group into which an animal was born......bonobos girls migrate into another group at puberty and then form strong bonds with same-sex strangers over time. This unusual secondary bonding with non-kin sets up a powerful artificial sisterhood which is capable of running the show..."

Erna Walraven 2019

It is thought that this matriarchal and egalitarian social system has developed to keep the young safe. Compared with the chimps, there is little male harassment and infanticide. If a rare fight occurs, the all-girls coalition will come together to confront the fighting males.

"...these coalitions increase the bonds amongst females who spend time together grooming, eating and socialising. The highest-ranking individuals are always the older matriarchs who keep the individuals in this egalitarian and cohesive society safe. Bonobo leadership is about the survival of offspring and creating a harmonious society...... leaders protect the members of their community and share the food to make sure everyone gets to eat. Troop members follow the old matriarchs with respect and trust their judgement. They knows where to find food and share the resources fairly..."

Erna Walraven 2019

Different from the chimpanzees, in adulthood the bonobos have equal sex ratios between male and female. The male bobobos have a better quality of life under the female domination than female chimps have under male domination.

Application of these two different leadership styles to humans

Comparing the aggressive approach of the chimps and the more egalitarian, peace-loving of bobobos, our hierarchical Non-Indigenous society tends to replicate the chimp model. On the other hand,

"...successful leaders in the bonobos and chimpanzee society both use complex leadership strategies and alliances to maintain social harmony as a first priority..."

 Erna Walraven 2019

"...examples of animal leaders who monopolise resources (food and sex) and use violence and intimidation to seize or stay in power are plentiful......it never ends well for those types of leaders. It's far more attractive to focus on the positive traits that animal leaders display that result in long-lasting and thriving animal teams..."

Erna Walraven 2019

Conflict resolution is an extremely important skill. Also the group needs to be cohesive to collaborate when it really matters, like in times of danger.

"...Wild animals will follow a leader they can trust to keep them safe......leader that act in the best interest of the group..."

Erna Walraven 2019


Search For Answers

designed by: bluetinweb

We use cookies to provide you with a better service.
By continuing to use our site, you are agreeing to the use of cookies as set in our policy. I understand