I was helping my daughter research a project on monkeys and apes recently. As I got more into understanding all the different species and their personalities, it struck me just how closely related we really are to them. And more so, how these traits can relate directly back to leadership styles or behaviors.
But, I think you’ll agree there are some similarities too glaring to ignore.
Squirrel monkeys: the quieter, less aggressive leaders
Squirrel monkeys are non-aggressive, quiet and shy; however, they may shriek if they feel they're in danger. They tend to generally stay up in the trees but do come down to ground level to look for food.
Does this sound like you? Are you quieter, more reserved, with a tendency for strategic thinking versus action and activity? Do you typically go with the flow, only choosing to speak up strongly when threatened — perhaps when your values or beliefs are being challenged?
Spider monkeys: the leaders who "act friendly"
Spider monkeys can share their territory with howler monkeys quite peacefully, even "acting friendly". However, they may shout and throw things at humans.
This one made me laugh! I’ve known a few leaders over the years just like this. Leaders who play in the sandbox quite well with others, but aren’t really genuinely committed to doing so. These are leaders to watch perhaps. They may have a tendency to get too passionate about things, not always in a good way. Sometimes they're a little two-faced.
Howler monkeys: the leaders who don't "walk the talk"
Howler monkeys are the noise-makers of the jungle, with howls that can be heard three miles (4.8 km) away. They’re slower moving than other types and use favorite paths over and over again. They almost always have a ‘good grip on things’. So they’re low energy but have lots to say!
Perhaps they’re the leaders who talk a lot but don’t walk the talk, or are all voice and no action. And best of all, thanks to sounding off, they don’t have to run into any other group they would rather stay away from! These leaders are probably quite predictable, seldom veering from the behaviors they’re known for.
Orangutans: the quiet, deep-thinking leaders
Orangutans are gentle and intelligent and may choose to spend all their time up in the trees. They're emotionally expressive and tend to be fairly solitary as adults.
I also think I’ve known a few of these. Not ones for conflict, they tend to gain the respect of those around them because of their calm intelligence. Likely unflappable, these leaders might be seen as introverts in the organization, able to socialize if they have to, but quite at ease with their own company. They’re thinkers, not the first to speak in a meeting, but when they do, it’s worth listening to.
Gorillas: the imposing, forceful leader
Gorillas are probably the most physically imposing of all. The males are dominant, the center of the group’s attention. The males make all the decisions for the group, sort out group conflicts and look after the group’s safety and well-being. Conflicts are often resolved by shows of threatening behaviors designed to intimidate, but not always followed through with action. They’re highly intelligent, laugh, grieve, form strong bonds with others and are said to be able to think about the past and future.
This felt like the leader known as a bully when I first read it — someone who feels they have to make a show of things. They might lack self-awareness and perhaps expect to be respected just because they’re the leader. That’s a shame, because usually they have the intelligence to gain respect in other ways to begin with. They either don’t see it, or can’t do it.
A lesson in leadership
So what’s the leadership lesson in this one? It’s a lesson in humility — we’re just not that different from other primates, so we need to get over ourselves!
I don’t know about you, but I think there’s a part of me in each one of these primates. I hope it’s the good parts and I hope I can see the not-so-good parts.
Your turn: So when it comes to your leadership style, which primate are you?