Leadership is Like a Kitten

Just call me Kitty!
“A kitten is in the animal world what a rosebud is in the garden” – Robert Southey

Three years ago my sons brought home two adorable kittens. They talked us into keeping them. A year later another one showed up conveniently hidden in a box in the arms of one of my twins. Both sets of eyes had a pleading look. Reluctant at first, they became a part of our family. The only problem was that we are all allergic to cats and they couldn’t live in the house. Rather quickly a miniature door was cut out leading into the heated garage; they received canned cat food and treats daily like it was Christmas. They roamed all over our land and lazily come home to their castle. Spoiled rotten kitties!

They were very handy to have around. They were sneaky predators that stalked field mice and my favorite, moles. They loved staring into our pond watching our fish whip and splash about knowing that catching one was hopeless. They befriended the fish that would swim up to nibble on their paws. In short, they were the perfect low maintenance lovable pets.  They eagerly purred for attention and loved to sit and watch us work outside while just enjoying nature.

Unfortunately, two of our cats passed away this year but not before leaving a legacy of 4 tiny kittens. Mama cat wanted nothing to do with us and quickly passed this attitude along to her kids. The family would sneak into the garage for food and water but vanished when we came close. This continued for two months until one day we were able to get close to one of the kittens, close being 6 feet away.

The kitten came to visit for food every night and she must have been setting her watch to be on time. She would linger under the car and the kids would sit there every night on the floor throwing her treats trying to coax her closer.  As the trust built we could touch her head with one finger, then two. She slowly moved closer to us but fled at the slightest loud noise or quick movement.

Another few weeks passed and our relationship strengthened. Kitty rubbed up against everything and came closer. Soon she rubbed up against our hand. We were able to pet her and she would rub up against us for attention. Bingo! The kitten adopted us. Her name is Kitty because that’s what we kept calling her and she knows no other name. Now, she hangs out on our deck craving attention for hours on end. She stares into the window waiting for someone to pet her and play. She quickly runs to us when she hears her name. She trusts us and her eyes beg to be with us. She’s quickly become spoiled and turns her nose up at hard cat food. She wants the best. It has taken time, but we have developed a relationship and trust - there is no better gift.

At this point you are probably wondering what a kitten has to do with leadership. It’s simple.  We started from scratch with Kitty and had to slowly engage with her by being gentle and understanding. We had to earn her trust, not thrust ourselves onto her and demand that she come to us. We had to “earn” our title as her pet partner which took time, patience, and commitment. Once the bond was formed, she adopted us.

Leadership is no different. Just because you have a leadership title or are in a particular position does not make you a leader. I have worked with numerous “leaders” and there was not a single leadership bone in their body. They used their title to force change and it only alienated people and hampered results. No, real leaders come in all shapes and from diverse backgrounds and experiences.

Real leaders are humble and really interested in people. They want to empower and make change through people and give teams a voice. True leaders will invite others to sit at the table for conversation and decisions. They earn the trust of others through their actions and willingness to serve rather than direct. True leaders know that trust and openness take time. It can’t be rushed or respect demanded from teams. Real leaders really know how to lead because they take the time to get to know people and genuinely invest in them.

Now get out there and tame some “kittens”. Be humble and willing to serve. Build trust and encourage them to trust you. Be the leader that you know you can be! Who says that leadership isn’t like a kitten?