Nature-based stories #5 What leaders can learn from seals

Did you know that the curiosity of your employees is a business case?

Employees with strong interest in joyous exploration are not a “risk” for leaders; they are important innovators in a company - If leaders do not stifle their energy, and if they support employees to transform their curiosity into competence.

New research shows that curiosity is vital to an organization´s performance:

“Leaders should hire for curiosity, model inquisitiveness, emphasize learning goals, let workers explore and broaden their interests, and have “Why?” “What if…?” and “How might

we…?” days. Doing so will help their organizations adapt to uncertain market conditions and external pressures, and boost the business’s success”. (1)

Seals - also known as the playful dogs of the ocean, are characterized by their positively enigmatic nature, their inherent playfulness and charming, but elusive curiosity.

Also known as Pinnipeds, seals exist as a group of fin-footed, amphibious marine mammals.

Within our oceans, there are 33 species of Pinnipeds across the globe, however they generally are found in cold water environments.

I have free-dived with seals many times, and the predominant feeling of experiencing seals whilst freediving with them in the ocean, is their absolutely striking curiosity and playfulness. Being in the water with these animals can be exhilarating, however often with a sense of healthy caution, for their movements are quick and can appear unpredictable at times. Their

flippers assist in gliding, while their body and hind fins propel them through the water.

The way they look at you with their big eyes and investigate you by circling around you is unique.  

So, let your employees circle around you with fresh, surprising and bold ideas. Let them experiment, let them do deep dives into new innovative topics, and maintain fluidity and playfulness in order to stay inspired within a business environment.

More inspiring seal-facts:

Seals are admirably some of the best free-divers. Their bodies are designed for deep, long dives, and they are able to absorb much more oxygen through their blood than a human being is capable of. They are able to travel to depths of 100 meters, lowering their heart rate tremendously in order to reach their desired depths. Upon ascent, they are then able to release air from their air sacs to prevent nitrogen bubbles from contaminating the bloodstream.

Their diet consists primarily of fish, and they use an array of tactics to hunt. Their whiskers, acting as sensors, assist them in locating prey, which become especially useful in turbulent waters.

Because many seals home off small reefs, coastlines and islands in the ocean, such as in the Cape of Storms, South Africa which generally host rough, wild and cold waters, a seal’s sensory abilities, as well as their agility assist them in successfully navigating their ever-fluctuating environment. Seals are also able to identify prey in turbulent waters up to 100 meters away by sight, as well as sense the smallest of movements in the water.

Sensory abilities, deep dives, agility, identifying opportunities in “turbulent waters”, sensing smallest changes and having an array of “hunting” tactics – aren´t these all also attributes of a successful leader?

Seals are flexible and dynamic creatures in the water. Their mobility allows them to swim upside down, on their backs, and in almost any direction with an effortless, twisting fluidity.

It is a marvel to watch them dance in the water, or sleep on their backs in the ebbing swell, far out at sea.

Egon Zehnder´s researchers found out that managers who are extremely curious often have the potential of reaching C-Level – with the right leadership development. It is about transforming curiosity into competence.

One last interesting fact:

After the first few weeks of a milk diet, their mothers finally abandon them, forcing them to hunt and fend for themselves in the wild.

There is a point at which to trust and let go control over others.

Sometimes it is also about releasing the control on one’s own “seal pup” self and trusting the processes of life.


(1)   “Why curiosity matters”, Harvard Business Review September-October 2018 (p.47-61)

Photo credit and marine mammal biology research: Chryssea Michaela Johnson

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