What Senior Leaders Can Learn From Master Trackers

Ten deep questions to reflect on your Leadership Journey so far. 

Reading Time: 3:30s

Many of us are now working from home.

It’s an uncertain and difficult time for everyone. Less structure, more time to think. The long days ahead offer time for reflection at a deeper level.

Our blog this month arises from the study of an unusual group of people. And it culminates in 10 powerful questions …

Alex van den Heever has worked in the African bushveld for most of his adult life. As a result, he has been richly blessed.

A big reason for this is his work with expert wildlife trackers, such as Renias Mhlongo and Karel Benadie. People with unique skills that place them in a league of their own.

But it’s more than skill which sets them apart.

They possess a special blend of attributes. Human qualities that have kept them at the top of their game.

And it’s been put to the test … with leopards and lions in Africa. Grizzly bears in North America and puma’s in the hostile sierras of Patagonia.

Fascinated, I sat with Alex to learn more. My goal was to understand what senior executives can learn from master trackers.

Here’s what he shared with me.

  1. They know what they are good at.

They play to their strengths. Karel, for example, is excellent at trailing over rough, broken ground. Renias is brilliant at anticipating an animal’s direction.

Knowing their strengths (talents) is a big advantage. It helps them find the animal fast and with little wasted effort. Equally, they know what they are not good at.

  1. They love what they do.

Their motivation is intrinsic. Being on the trail is work of course, but it’s work with meaning. They are happy and relaxed because they are doing what they are best at.

Their reward is not only finding the animal. The process itself is deeply rewarding. It’s where they express themselves. Thus they track when it’s hot, cold and uncomfortable. This perseverance makes them more successful more often.

  1. They balance rational thought with creativity.

Trailing an elusive animal requires them to be both literal and imaginative. Competence with the detail and big picture thinking is foundational to their mastery.

They zoom in and zoom out of these two modes effortlessly.

Engaging with the minutiae of the trail is necessary. But it’s combined with the ever-changing information from the landscape around them. This is creativity in action and helps to anticipate and leapfrog ahead.

  1. They are constantly learning

There is never a moment of ‘I’ve arrived’. Curiosity is a signature feature of their personality.

Despite their experience, they have an intense desire to know and understand more. Growing their knowledge and skills is a habit.

Losing the track does not derail them. This is a fresh opportunity to learn. It’s all part of the process. Amidst the uncertainty, they consistently display calmness and common sense.

  1. They radiate conviction and confidence

Both are positive to a fault. Self-limiting beliefs about their ability to find the animal are non-existent. They simply believe they will be successful.

This is contagious. It inspires confidence in those (less experienced) tracking with them. Younger trackers learn from this. It strengthens their resilience to keep going.

It also means one feels safe. Even in unpredictable situations – such as when the animal charges or shows aggression.

  1. They love teaching others.

 Both Renias and Karel are patient, dedicated teachers. They are devoted to growing the next generation of wildlife trackers.

It’s their calling to build up the youngsters. To ensure they are useful and economically active in their communities. This means growing skills. But also, filling them with confidence and exposing them directly to opportunity.

  1. They are humble.

This makes all the above possible. They are unassuming. Their tracking is not a demonstration designed to impress. Their ego seldom runs the show.

It also means they have compassion and empathy for their subject … to truly get ‘into the skin of the animal’.

Inspired by lessons from Master Trackers I reflected on what it would take to become a ‘Master Leader’. Imagine the positive effect on people’s lives. The value for organisations. This is an ideal worth striving for.

How about you … are you on track to become a master leader?

Use these 10 questions to reflect on your journey so far:

  1. Do you know what you are good at?
  2. Do you understand what your special talent is and play to this strength?
  3. Do you love what you do?
  4. Does your reward come from doing the work and not just what the work produces?
  5. Are you connected to the detail and fluent in the big picture?
  6. Are you constantly learning?
  7. Do your words and actions inspire hope and confidence?
  8. Do people feel safe around you?
  9. Are you actively growing the next generation of leaders?
  10. Do you have your ego in check?

We love hearing from you. Please comment on the post below.

We’ll pick three responses.

Each person will receive a free copy of Alex’s new book, Changing a Leopard’s Spots – It’s a winner!

16 replies
  1. Craig
    Craig says:

    Thanks, Grant, such powerful words, as always. Great questions to stir our personal reflection at this critical juncture and for us to recalibrate ourselves for what will be an ‘interesting’ time ahead.

  2. Andre
    Andre says:

    Great post thank you. I love the power of it’s simplicity. Will definitely reflect on those questions.


  3. Lyn
    Lyn says:

    Straying too far from the absolute ‘rightness’ of nature’s laws, which always bear in mind the ‘bigger picture’ and emphasize the well-being of the whole, can be a dangerous mistake. Thank you Grant for making a real effort to understand and be guided by these critically important principles, of which selflessness is one. Your teaching helps find a way to ensure outcomes that are well aligned with what nature intended. Thank you!

  4. Lorne Sulcas
    Lorne Sulcas says:

    Terrific piece, Grant, thank you. So powerfully written, clear in its message and relatable in its metaphor.
    But best of all is your leadership by example here… Your writing speaks so loudly of the very leadership qualities you’re sharing: humility, no ego, continuously learning, loving teaching, giving the credit away and edifying and building others.
    Thank you for sharing and modeling leadership we can all ‘get’.

  5. Jonathan Matsheketsheke
    Jonathan Matsheketsheke says:

    Grant, I love its simplicity yet very powerful message, I’m ticking boxes checking my scaling around the 10 questions.

  6. Tanya
    Tanya says:

    Numbers 3 & 4 really stand out for me right now – creativity and learning. The lockdown is really demanding a different approach from leaders — having to lead in crisis and from a distance! We all having to really adapt our styles. This article gives some valuable prompts and ideas on this. Thank-you.

  7. Steve
    Steve says:

    Hi Grant,

    A really thought provoking piece, and there is a great message to track there. The 10 questions you posed are totally relevant in this new world, and we could build a workshop around these thoughts.

    I was left pondering what are the tracks I am leaving and who might be following me?

    Thank yuh and well done,

  8. Graham
    Graham says:

    Super piece Grant, and a perfect example about down-to-earth guys at the top of their game. It also works for me because the goal is so clearly defined: ‘Find the leopard.’ No half measures, no success unless you find the animal. No patting yourself on the back, let alone building a tracking business, on constantly achieving less than the objective. Anything less is a failure.

    Thinking of the trackers I have known or watched in action, without excellent understanding and consideration of all the fixed points and variables in the big picture, it can be easy to misread the detail, to be mislead or even distracted by it to failure.

    The questions were spot on, for me at least. Strengths and growth areas jumped out at me.

    It is all the more meaningful because I met Alex when he was 18, and Renias too, when I was dipping a toe into training. We even worked together. So it is a sweet full circle to be learning from their lives all these years later.

    Many thanks.

    • Grant Ashfield
      Grant Ashfield says:

      Hi Graham. Thank you for your wonderful response to the Master Tracker blog post. You of all people, with all of your experience, would know just how good Renias and Alex are. Take care. Grant


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *