EcoTraining’s AGM: learning business lessons from lions

In May, the entire EcoTraining team gathered at our Karongwe camp for what we thought would be a potentially tedious AGM (as they tend to be). Instead, it was to be a radically different and inspirational event.

The team consisted of all the instructors, camp and office staff, our three directors and a surprise guest. One can sum the gathering up as a union of like-minded conservationists who care for Mother Nature and the future of our planet.

Twenty-nine EcoTraining staff arrived at camp on a Thursday morning; some of the office staff were still on a high after a very successful INDABA trade show, inspired by the keen interest of international agents in our courses and ethos.

It was also wonderful for the office staff to be back in camp, as our emails and laptops keep us firmly rooted to our desks with not enough time to experience our beautiful wilderness camps.  The camp buzzed with the excitement of all those who seldom see each other, from our Kenyan colleagues to those tucked away in Mashatu and further afield.

After a hearty breakfast in the shade of a large jackalberry tree, we settled into our bush conference room and were told by Anton Lategan, owner and director of EcoTraining, that this was not an AGM. Rather it would be an opportunity to talk about and visualise where we as individuals and as a team can take EcoTraining into the future, and how we can fulfil our mission of creating more caretakers of our planet.   Not a bad theme to kick-start a meeting!

Next up (drum roll) was an introduction to the renowned motivational speaker Ian Thomas, who made a presentation titled Power of the Pride. That moment was a WOW for me. I have always heard about Ian Thomas and his brilliant talk and wondered if I could ever be lucky enough to watch it.

And here he was, an ex-Londolozi safari guide, a close friend of our director Alex van den Heever, about to start his presentation. The messages and powerful advice he conveyed intensely, physically and verbally, to us through his stories were so tangible, so convincing, and so obvious. If we only had thought of them before he taught us!

Ian is a business graduate who studied lions for 20 years as a game ranger in Africa. As an internationally sought motivational speaker, he draws on both his business and safari background to deliver motivational presentations that show you how lions can teach you to create successful business teams.

Being totally enthralled by and enveloped in Ian’s actions, movements and presentation style, I couldn’t help but grab a pen and my diary and quickly start scribbling, eager to retain so much of what he was sharing.

He spoke about the following:

  •  A TEAM is made up of powerful individuals. These individuals each specialise according to their strengths. They have conviction about their role, and what they need to fulfil. Specialisation is key!
  • FOCUS – they set and keep their focus on one thing, such as a buffalo or zebra. Nothing distracts them. They are ALL clear on their goal and purpose …  to successfully hunt and kill a potentially very dangerous buffalo
  • INCENTIVE-DRIVEN – if they hunt, they will get food
  • BONDING – Ian then moved to the pride’s resting time, when plenty of grooming occurs. This results in bonding, which is critical for the hunt: if one lion goes in for the kill and battles to get the prey down, she will hang on at all costs (even if kicked in the jaw) as she knows unequivocally that the team will come in and help her. There is no mistrust or doubt in this team, which hunts to survive
  • COACHING THE YOUNG – the pride takes great care of its cubs, coaching them in all aspects of life. How do we work with the novices and younger starters in our companies?
  • An ARMY waiting in the long grass: Anton was able to interject at one point, and described to us how he sees EcoTraining’s past students as a pride of lions waiting in the long grass.   Anton’s dream and passion is to build up a strong and large alumni body of past students – passionate about the natural world, and ready to take on the world with EcoTraining’s message and mission

By the time Ian finished talking, we were glued to our seats, slowly releasing our breaths after having visualised lions on a zebra’s back; or crouching so low in the grass with their shoulder blades protruding, their bellies flattened on the ground.

A spontaneous open-floor discussion began, exploring each person’s understanding of EcoTraining’s mission and goal. We each wrote on a piece of paper what we believed them to be and handed it to Anton, who led the discussion. What transpired was truly encouraging and exceptional!

Some of the notes were as follows:

  • Reconnect as many people with nature as possible in order to protect wilderness areas
  • To recruit and educate as many naturalists worldwide to conserve the planet for generations to come
  • To create guardians of the wilderness, who advance the green frontier
  • Create environmental consciousness in as many people as possible
  • Train guides and inspire people

Two leading goals unfolded from these notes, and these were:

  1. Training top-class conservation-based field guides for the guiding industry.
  2. Educating people about the natural world, inspire them to love and protect it.

Profound debates ensued about what words such as cultivating, facilitating, ambassadors, guardians, conservationists, naturalists and more really mean in the context of EcoTraining. It was wonderful to hear the sincere thoughts of the EcoTraining staff, whose hearts and minds are deeply immersed in conservation.

It didn’t take long for our single-minded goal to be found and unanimously agreed upon: Creating guides and guardians of the natural world.

And with that as an absolute, our group of elated peers jumped into three game-drive vehicles for an afternoon safari and sundowners on an open plain – it was time to be guests in our own camps.

We enjoyed yet another surprise when we returned after dusk: the dry riverbed at camp lit up by candlelight and a glowing campfire, with dinner and drinks set up. I felt I was a safari guest … and very spoilt.

The evening occasioned lively conversation, including another riveting and hilarious fireside story from Ian about his interactions with the infamous Big Black (a male lion at Londolozi), his nemesis for many years in his guiding career.

After dinner, we asked for an astronomy lecture by Selati Instructor Dave Havemann, who is passionate about astronomy and astrology.

As the night deepened, weary yet happy souls peeled off to their tents for a sleep punctuated by the laughing of hyenas.

What a magnificent 36 hours we had in the Karongwe camp, what with the camaraderie of the team and the inspiration of our new set of three diverse, yet passionate directors leading EcoTraining into the future.

The EcoTraining team … Ready to make our new goal a reality!

About the Author:
Annemi Zaaiman

Annemi Zaaiman

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