A Lesson in Trust and Leadership from my Cat

Endora 0715Endora is the newest edition to our family, joining her sister Elphaba. Both are shelter cats. We adopted Elphie at 7 weeks. She rules the house and is afraid of nothing. When our older cat passed 10 months later Elphie was visibly grieving, so we set out to find a friend for her.

Endora was a stray until she was rescued by the county and put up for adoption. She was about a year old when rescued, and had been in the shelter for several months when we arrived. I might have thought it odd that she had burrowed under the paper litter box in her cage, as far away from “the humans” as she could be. But I was distracted by her big, beautiful eyes that seemed to be begging me to “adopt me.” So we did.

We had introduced Elphie to the house slowly. She was so tiny and we didn’t want her to be overwhelmed, or get lost. We thought, because Endora was worldly and older, we could just let her out and she would love her new playground.

She immediately went under and to the middle of our king size bed. Three days later, we coaxed her out (she emerged when we weren’t there to use the litter box) and put big sheets of Styrofoam around the bed, tucking pillows in the back. She ran to the guest room and hid behind the sofabed. Long story short, we built her a little cave in a corner and worked hard to make her feel safe. Eventually she began coming out, sitting with us and allowing us to pet her.

Then one day I blew it. She was laying on the bed, and I wanted to pet her. So I walked over, obviously a little too fast, and she bolted. I chased. I grabbed. She escaped.

Now she’s under the dining room table, and we’re starting all over again. We’re making progress, slowly.

What Endora taught me about trust and leadership

You never really know what another person (or cat) has been through that has shaped who they have become. That look of peacefulness may be hiding hurt or distrust that you cannot fully understand.

Trust can be lost in an instant. It’s more difficult to regain trust than to never lose it.

I have a much better chance of getting her to trust me if I recognize her needs and wants, and don’t impose my own.

In this case, I am the one with power. I am bigger and smarter, and could force her out to sit on my lap and let me pet her. But I wouldn’t have her trust, only her compliance until she could escape and hide.

Because I have that power (and am a lot bigger), I can be intimidating. “What, me? But my intentions are good,” I say. I know that (at least they are good in my opinion), but Endora certainly doesn’t. I have to show her, in a way that she will understand. My actions will speak far louder than my words.

I probably will not change who Endora is. She may become more trusting, but she will probably not be the fearless cat that Elphie is. It is up to me to recognize what she wants and needs, and by the way, what Elphie wants and needs (although she is quick to tell me.)

Could this apply to people?

I think these lessons work for people relationships, and perhaps for teams of people working together. Every member of the team has a different history and experience, a different personality when interacting with others, and a need to be heard.

A leader can generate trust, or lose it. A leader can inspire, or control. A leader can connect with each member of the team on their terms, and build a relationship based on trust.

This makes it a little more difficult and time-consuming – understanding individuals on a team and building meaningful relationships. It is infinitely more rewarding, as your team members are personally engaged and committed which drives your team’s performance.

I realize that comparing people to cats is a bit of a stretch….or is it?

Their names

I love Wicked, the musical, so when we adopted Elphie on Halloween it made perfect sense to name her Elphaba. When we saw that Endora was also named for a witch, we took it as a sign. In their own way, they are both witchy-women.

3 thoughts on “A Lesson in Trust and Leadership from my Cat”

  1. It can also apply to cultures in the workplace. Some cultures are “huggers”; others are not. A talented leader will respect the other person, understand their point of view and adjust his/her behaviors accordingly. My cat of 15 years is not a “hugger” and never will be. I have to realize I’ll never get her to be a hugger, no matter how much she trusts me.

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