Under direct threat of attack, a giraffe generally beats a hasty retreat, although a female shepherding a small baby will stand her ground. Giraffes never employ their knobby horns against predators, but they can deliver a crushing blow with the hind foot, chop-kick with the forefoot like a horse, or strike with the whole stiff foreleg.
—J. Bristol Foster, biologist, 1977
When the giraffe spots an area where it can guide the herd to foliage and protection, the herd calmly moves forward, although occasionally a lion appears, blocking the path to the feeding ground.
The giraffe must make a life-or-death decision.
It often walks away or gives warnings but rarely launches that crushing blow, though the threat of the giraffe’s lethal kick is known to the lion. In some specific way, giraffes always deal with lions so they can move forward to graze, the herbivore’s daily goal.
Standing up to lions is as tricky in the professional world as it is in the wild. We’re stopped and yanked off the path of moving forward. We’re thrust backward into the primitive mode of “survive or die.” In work settings few of us stand up to the lion with as much ease and focus as giraffes do in nature. But to make use of the encounter, we must commit to the goal of feeding (learning). If that’s our genuine focus, we’ll have more skills at negotiating these conflicts when the next lion blocks our path to growth.
Indra Nooyi is a giraffe-inspired leader who had to face lions blocking her path—the lions of change. After she became the CEO of PepsiCo, Nooyi launched “Performance with Purpose,” a new business model that “focuses on delivering sustainable growth by investing in a healthier future for people and the planet,” as reported in Chrystal Houston’s 2010 article “Duty of Care.”
Nooyi initiated significant change away from the unhealthy twentieth-century model to a smarter twenty-first-century pathway by suggesting the removal all of the company’s sugary drinks from schools around the world by 2012; the reduction of salt in the company’s biggest brands by 25 percent by 2015; and the reduction of saturated fat by 15 percent in its snacks by 2020. She shifted from “fun for you” products (chips and sugared soft drinks) to “better for you” products (popcorn, baked chips, and zero-calorie drinks) and “good for you” products (granola bars and fruit juices).
PepsiCo’s healthier approach led Nooyi to face numerous lions, also known as skeptics. Many attacked her by questioning her sincerity—was this simply another PepsiCo PR tactic recycled through a “healthy” brand? Nooyi, however, stood up to the lions of change through maintaining a clear goal, warning the company not to take the dead-end route, as the tobacco industry had.
Firms are now being held legally responsible for their products creating health problems and penalized accordingly. Nooyi imagined the company moving beyond the familiar idea of “just beating Coke.” Unlike the tobacco industry, which produces cigarettes that are linked to cancer, Nooyi is leading PepsiCo and the soft-drink and snack industry to find solutions for obesity and related health problems that her company’s products are being linked to in the United States. She doesn’t want PepsiCo to mirror the tobacco industry, which fought change, lost, then moved overseas where it doesn’t have to grow its tobacco in some particular way and continue to ruin the health of others.
Nooyi was firm with the lions of change, arguing that PepsiCo’s focus must be on people’s health throughout the next century. She hired experts for PepsiCo’s research and development teams to guide the company to offer healthier products that earn $10 billion today, which will grow in the next decade to reach $30 billion of PepsiCo’s assets.
Nooyi stood up to the lions of change with a belief that argued that we can’t run away to foreign countries in the twenty-first century because that’s not the kind of change that leads to long-term growth. “Performance with Purpose” isn’t a surface deal for her. Nooyi is honest and accountable and has a global background that provides an awareness and understanding of others. She embraces a variety of input, which is key to standing firm when the ubiquitous lions block the path to company innovation.