Wild Leadership: Learning from Elephants

Did you know? “The elephant’s brain is three to four times larger than a human brain, weigh an average of 11lbs compared to 3.8 lbs for a human brain” (Garstang, 2015). Talk about brainpower! Not only do elephants have massive physical strength – but they also have extreme mental strength and ability. Here are just a few ways that leaders can learn how elephants use their brains to lead in their environments!

elephants are Social and communicative

Elephants grow and learn from others in their family – just like people! One way that they connect and socialize with others in their group is through vocal communication. Researchers study elephant vocal communications and see differences in frequencies, durations, and sounds (Stoeger-Horwath et al., 2005). For instance, researchers find truck-like calls and chirp-like calls. Using various vocal calls allows elephants to communicate different messages, share emotions, engage in social interactions, and build relationships within their groups. 

Now, reflect for a moment on your communication.

  • How would you describe your approach to communicating with others?
  • Are there areas of challenge when it comes to your communication style?
  • Where do you excel related to communicating with colleagues?
  • What type of communication are you modeling for your mentees? 

Influence and emotion are essential to elephant leadership

By nature, elephants are social, expressive, and relational creatures. And that nature impacts their leadership. Within their circles, researchers have found that “leadership is shown in exerting influence rather than dominance…. Leadership was manifested in terms of respect, which recognized problem-solving and permissiveness” (Garstang, 2015). Within their context, elephants understand emotions, sense emotions, and even practice altruism. Care, comfort, teaching, and kinship are essential aspects of a matriarchal society. 

Reflective questions to consider…

  • How would you describe your leadership style? Is it characterized by influence or dominance?
  • How do you demonstrate respect to your team members?
  • What values define how you relate and express care for those in your organization?

Coalition and cooperation for longevity

An important aspect of elephant intelligence includes understanding how to create and be a part of coalitions. Coalitions are essential to elephant society as alliances, reciprocity, and cooperation are vital to their longevity and strength. 

What about you?

  • Would you describe your context as cooperative?
  • Are you active within any coalitions? Maybe internal to your organization or external within the industry?

What about your organization?


Garstang, M. (2015). Elephant sense and sensibility. Elsevier Science & Technology.

Stoeger-Horwath, A. S., Poole, J. H., Watwood, S., & Tyack, P. L. (2005). Animal behaviour elephants are capable of vocal learning. Nature, 434(7032), 455-456. https://doi.org/10.1038/434455a