Leadership Lessons From Safari

Gregory Fine

As a Digital Nomad, I’m afforded the opportunity to work while exploring the world. On a recent trip to South Africa, I enjoyed a safari. One day, setting in the jeep and watching the interaction between the Ranger and Tracker, I witnessed a partnership that had me reflecting on the relationship between an association’s Chief Elected Officer and Chief Executive Officer.

Both the Ranger and Tracker have very specific, delineated, and critical roles & responsibilities to ensure guests have an incredible and safe experience. The Ranger drives and has the primary responsibility for the safety and enjoyment of the guests. These individuals are highly engaging, command driving skills that are inspiring and exhilarating, share their expansive knowledge of and passion for flora & fauna and are world-class storytellers. They serve as the host, provide strategic direction for the drive and adapt with input from the Tracker.

The Tracker’s primary responsibility (and passion) is to locate animals. They’re often born and raised on or very near the reserve and are one with the land. They understand how animals behave. Often, they can recognize the track of a particular animal, like a leopard, and know how THIS big cat behaves. They have no fear! Sitting on a seat mounted on the front of the jeep, they are constantly scanning the environment and providing input to Ranger. Not only about tracks, but road hazards and other interesting things that the guests might enjoy. Trackers naturally transfer their love of the place to the guest, for you are often in their home.

For the guest sitting in the jeep transfixed and mesmerized by the experience, it’s easy to miss the incredible working partnership between Ranger and Tracker. While each has a specifically defined role, they work in concert to accomplish two things: return everyone to the lodge safely; and make every drive a once in a lifetime experience.

While the Ranger pilots the jeep, it’s with input from the Tracker who may see things the other won’t or can’t. One doesn’t’ want to ruin a drive by hitting a new rut or bump that wasn’t there yesterday.  While the Tracker possesses deity like abilities to locate elusive animals, they don’t ignore input from the Ranger who spots fresh tracks. Two sets of eyes are always better than one when tracking lions. While there may be spirited dialogue about where to go, which animals to track or path to take (the tactics) there is a laser focus on the mission of the drive.

I think this is the perfect metaphor for the ideal partnership between the top volunteer leader and chief staff member. Each fulfilling their primary role, while leveraging where their unique skills, perspective, knowledge and experience enhance the other’s ability to deliver on the mission. All with no concern about credit or adulation because at the end of the drive, the guest will remember it was the team that gave them the experience of a lifetime.

Originally published on the United States Chamber of Commerce Institute for Organization Management Blog