Are You a Wolf or Rabbit Leader?

Recognizing if your stress response looks like predator or prey

We had just finished watching a chase scene video in our Power Women training series where wolves aggressively stalked a surprisingly swift hare. The rabbit was fleeing the hungry wolves, who at times were right on its heels. The rabbit zig-zagged across the landscape making lightning-fast decisions to throw its predators off course.

After an intense two-minute pursuit, the hare miraculously outwit and outran the wolves. I paused the video and asked the class who related to being the wolves and who related to being the rabbit.

One participant shared she felt like the wolves were her never-ending list of tasks, and she was the rabbit. Others imagined the wolves as deadlines or as difficult but necessary conversations. 

When it comes to the predator-prey relationship, animals receive signals from their environment that they are safe, so they can allow their nervous systems to settle.

Imagine the consequences for a rabbit in the wild if it doesn’t stop running after recognizing the wolf is gone. The rabbit would become so exhausted that it wouldn’t be prepared for the next predator that crosses its path. From the predator’s perspective, imagine a wolf continuing to run at full speed in the absence of prey. It would also tire itself out and be unable to keep hunting.

Regardless of whether we relate to being a wolf or a rabbit as a leader, the predator-prey dynamic can provide insight into the stress we experience every day.

Are you a rabbit in your life? Do you experience constant stress throughout your day? If so, what are the consequences of being stuck in full flight mode and not providing yourself with the opportunity to recharge mentally and physically?  

As a woman leader, I recognized I needed to take an honest look at the consequences of being stuck in a stress-response pattern during the majority of my workday. I realized not only was it taking away my ability to be an effective leader, but the internal pressure and drive resulted in me feeling depleted at the end of the day, with little bandwidth left for me, my husband or my son.  

What does flight mode look like on a practical day-to-day level? For me, it was the endless to-do list I believed I couldn’t set aside. I realized when I don’t give myself time to pause, I am acting like that rabbit, running from wolves all day.

I would tell myself to take a break and rest after I got through my list, which, not surprisingly, I never managed to complete. The irony was that another wolf always came along, and I never was able to rest and recharge.  

- Sponsor -

This all reminds me of a wise concept in the world of personal finance called, “Pay yourself first.” Meaning, whenever you receive money your first action is to put a small portion, 10%, into savings or investments, and then use the remaining 90% for spending. Financial research studies have shown individuals tell themselves they will save more once they make more. But if we haven’t learned to save on our current level of income, we won’t be able to save more when our income increases.  

The same can be said about taking care of our nervous systems. We erroneously believe we’ll take a break when we get the next thing done or when the next big project is complete. However, we rarely feel like we have enough time. 

A challenging situation arises, and we’re off again, either chasing it or being chased by it. The opportunity is to learn how to recognize that we are safe enough to take a break now (i.e. paying ourselves first). We can practice opening our eyes and recognizing we are not actually being chased by wolves who will eat us if we stop.

In a single word, what I learned to do is pause. 

I realized taking breaks was not only necessary but essential and beneficial. I notice when my body is feeling tense, and my brain gets stressed, fuzzy and scattered. A pause for me might be something as simple as taking a 10-minute walk or gazing out the window for even a minute and noticing something interesting. 

The inherent beauty and gift in pausing is that it gives our nervous systems much-needed relief from our stress-response cycles and opens us up to more opportunities for inspiration and contentment.”

Leslie Cunningham

Sometimes, when I feel especially stressed or anxious, I will take 10 minutes to nap, sit and meditate. During that pause, I receive insightful ideas about my next steps that I never would have conceived had I remained in constant motion.  

Thich Nhat Hanh, a world-renowned Buddhist monk, says, “Learn how to practice mindfulness in such a way that you can create moments of happiness and joy for your own nourishment.” 

The inherent beauty and gift in pausing is that it gives our nervous systems much-needed relief from our stress-response cycles and opens us up to more opportunities for inspiration and contentment. By integrating these brief periods of rest throughout our days not only will we become more effective and successful as leaders, but we’ll get more done with greater efficacy, ease, stability and joy.

Click here for details on our upcoming Power Women training series. This leadership training is limited to 15 industry women. Starting May 2, step into your full authority and power in leadership and life. The course is specifically designed for smart, sensitive hot tub industry women who want to make a meaningful impact in their work and personal lives.