Why You Should Be A Giraffe, Not A Zebra With Lesley Michaels

by | Jul 6, 2023 | Podcasts

SWGR Lesley Michaels | Leadership Lessons


In a world of zebras, be a giraffe; elevate your leadership to new heights of resilience, innovation, and unwavering self-trust. In this week’s broadcast, we bring back the incredible Lesley Michaels. She discusses her captivating program on how to be a giraffe in the field of zebras. The demand for continuous innovation has become more important in the business landscape than ever before. Leaders are required to possess the agility to pivot effortlessly and the resilience to create sustainable success. That’s why Lesley shares how to navigate these changes but in using them as opportunities to achieve maximum performance both in business and in life. But what does it mean to be a giraffe in a field of zebras? Join us as Lesley unravels the secrets of these majestic creatures and reveals the invaluable leadership lessons we can learn from the animal world. Tune in now!


This interview was originally broadcast live in July 2022.

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Why You Should Be A Giraffe, Not A Zebra With Lesley Michaels

Leadership Lessons From The Animal World

There was a time when I interviewed Lesley Michaels, and there was a technical problem. We lost it. I brought her back. I said, “You don’t escape that easily. I have to bring you back to talk about the wonderful program you have about how to be a giraffe in a field of zebras.” Before we start, let me give you a little bit about Lesley’s bio, which is very impressive.

Lesley Michaels is a keynote speaker and transformational coach who applies simple brain science to reset habitual behavior patterns and establish the mindset of unwavering self-trust. She also leads women to build strategic alliance networks to elevate their effectiveness and strengthen their voices as leaders in the business arena.

More than ever before, life in the past couple of years of COVID-19 challenges requires consistent and never-ending innovation, the agility to pivot with ease and evergreen resilience to create sustainable success. Lesley helps individuals, organizations and leaders not just to navigate but to employ change as a strategy for creating new opportunities to achieve maximum performance in business and life. Lesley, I want to go back to that when we talk. One of the other wonderful things to tell you about Lesley is that she cares a lot about coaching those who are unacknowledged or undervalued, especially voices that are not being heard. Lesley Michaels, welcome to our show.

Thank you, Elizabeth.

What do you mean about being a giraffe in a field of zebras?

Picture a beautiful African savanna. We’ve all seen those images where there are usually not more than 3 but it can be 5 giraffes and then there are zebras grazing around them. The zebras’ heads are down. They’re noshing away on their grass and so it will be, unless one of those giraffes lifts their head and then all of the zebras hear that and they go on high alert.

The zebras in this way are the leaders. They are showing which way to go and when to go, when there is comfort and when there is something to be concerned about. I am inviting women to be dressed more often than zebras. As a society and even as a business environment, the majority do just what the zebras do. They have their head down. They’re plowing away step by step, not putting forward initiatives and abandoning a level of self-responsibility, unless someone else, a giraffe, says, “Pay attention now.”

SWGR Lesley Michaels | Leadership Lessons

Leadership Lessons: As a society and even as a business environment, the majority do just what the zebras do. They have their head down, they’re just plowing away step by step, not putting forward initiatives.


I love metaphors. Metaphors in stories are so important. I love the way you’re talking about this. If we want to play with this metaphor a little bit, giraffes have no voices but they can make themselves understood in other ways. What do you think about choosing a voiceless animal to illustrate the necessity of women raising their voices?

I don’t associate it with women raising their voices. I associate it with women raising their presence and being more fully present. Women do have voices and will use them but by raising their presence and becoming more comfortable in their skin and with interaction. We were speaking about feedback. I was in the corporate world way back in the days when there were twelve women in corporate worldwide.

You were in the oil and gas industry.

Yes. I had a wonderful mentor who happened to be the founder of the company. We came out of a meeting. I was still shaking. It had been one of those. He put me on the spot for the first time. I have to speak in front of all these men who are looking at me like I’m a twelve-year-old. When we came out, he said, “You handled that blowback pretty well. I’ll give you some tips later if you like.” I said, “Sure. Give me some tips.” He said, “The most important thing to remember is that if you’re not getting blowback, you’re not playing hard enough.”

Whatever you want to call it, if you’re not getting that, you’re not playing hard enough. I am inviting women to be a giraffe, rise, engage in mentorship that all women do and be willing to experience pushback. Use that as a source of information and growth instead of caving in on themselves because someone didn’t appreciate fully what they said at the moment.

SWGR Lesley Michaels | Leadership Lessons

Leadership Lessons: Women, be giraffes. Rise up, engage in mentorship, and be willing to experience pushback.


Girls are socialized to be nice and never make a mistake. I don’t think anyone ever intends that. It’s one of those unwritten or unspoken things that comes through our culture. That’s why I say socialized, not trained. I had to learn my way around that myself. Probably one of the reasons I’m not running an opera company is because I was too nice. I didn’t want to make a mistake. I had to get it all perfect. That was one of the reasons why I didn’t get where I wanted to get.

It’s an unconscious misogyny that we turn in on ourselves. One of the things I tell women every day is, “To be a giraffe, you have to forget about ever being nice again in your life. Throw it out. It’s worthless.” Being kind has tremendous value. There’s room in being kind to speak truth, even speak truth to power. Nice is a doormat.

Being kind has tremendous value. There is room in being kind to speak truth, even speak truth to power. Click To Tweet
SWGR Lesley Michaels | Leadership Lessons

On the Shoulders of Mighty Women: A Modern Feminist’s Guide to an Equitable, Diverse World

You have published a book called On the Shoulders of Mighty Women, which is a wonderful book. It helps us see how to rise and use women to help us. That has just come out and I’ve been devouring it. Lesley, talk to us about translating the thought of being a giraffe in a field of zebras as the person with the long view or the high view. You see from a higher point of view. How can we apply that in our daily lives and use it as a strength?

It’s for women to claim equity. That’s going to be our ultimate point of strength. This is going to require moving beyond all of the unconscious biases that we are using against ourselves and other women. One of the things I help women to do is to examine the way they see and very importantly, going back to the giraffe, the way they language things. The difference between nice and kind is a wonderful example.

How are they languaging things? How are they languaging the way they speak to themselves? How are they languaging the way they are assessing whether or not to make a move in this direction? This is a very important element that is often overlooked. It is directly connected to all my research in brain science. With everything we say and think, there is a part of the brain that receives it as a directive.

The brain receives everything we say and everything we think. There is a part of the brain that receives it as a directive. Click To Tweet

If we are invited to offer a presentation and we spend the next three days telling ourselves how hard it is, we have to get rid of hard. It may be unfamiliar, new or different but let’s not tell ourselves it’s going to be hard. It will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we start telling ourselves all of these negatives, “I’m not sure I can do it. I’m sure I can’t do it,” that becomes a directive that you have given to your brain. The only option there is to hide in the crowd, be a zebra, put your head down, graze and don’t let anyone see you.

Be able to stand up and be recognized. Be the one that when you move your head, you do nothing but move your head. Everyone looks up to see what’s going on. It’s a matter of learning how to treat ourselves with dignity and that will naturally extend out to all others. Not only will treating ourselves with dignity enhance our self-esteem, allow us to stand up and be giraffes. The fact that we are treating ourselves with dignity naturally causes a waterfall effect. We’re treating everyone around us with dignity and that gives us even more stature and gravitas.

It's a matter of learning how to treat ourselves with dignity. And that will naturally extend out to all others. Click To Tweet

I realized as we’ve been talking about this that one of the unconscious assumptions I’ve been making has been the giraffe sees the predator coming, sees trouble coming and helps people run away. I should be reframing that in my head in terms of the person who sees possibilities, who can be running towards instead of running away. I’m aware of my internal languaging that says fear and danger. When actually, it’s a chance to take care of the people around you and see something along, “If there’s a problem coming, you can move away from it but you can also move towards something.” Thank you, Lesley. I didn’t realize I was thinking that until you spoke about it.

You’re welcome. I appreciate you sharing that realization. It started triggering things for me as well. That is how women support one another.

As we work in alliance with each other, how can we assemble a group or a herd who can support us? You have spoken on this forum before. I had you on my show talking about strategic alliances. We’re in August 2022. It would be a good time to talk about strategic alliances and how we can move forward.

If you want to create a strategic alliance group, you always start by identifying your primary purpose. If you are wanting to create strategic alliance partners, it is quite similar. Make a list. Who are the women in your circle? Maybe they’re a couple of rings out ahead of you. Who are those women who present themselves in a way that you respect? Who are those women who, when they offer a delivery of some type, a speech, presentation or course, you want every word? Who are those women who are courageously saying to those who are making the rules, “Let’s think about this for a minute?”

If you want to create a strategic alliance group, you always start by identifying your primary purpose. Click To Tweet

“Is this the right rule? Is this the way to make this rule? Is this the rule that we need?”

You look and make a list of who those women are in your sphere of vision. It may not be your sphere of influence yet but your sphere of vision. When you have placed yourself opportunely in a position to have a word and to be able to ask them one question, have it in your mind already before that moment comes up. What one question would you ask that woman? She will either answer you or she won’t. Both tell you a great deal about who she is.

If she answers you, even if she is busy, which we assume she is, she’s a powerful, accomplished woman. When she gives you that answer and says, “Thank you,” and moves on, you have placed yourself in her sightline as someone who is a proactive learner, proactively engaged in wanting to understand more. You have put yourself in a position where the next time she sees you, she may say another word. That alliance builds itself. A strategic alliance is a relationship. It doesn’t happen in five minutes. It’s something that must be nurtured.

A strategic alliance is a relationship. It doesn't happen in five minutes. It’s something that must be nurtured. Click To Tweet

This is what I call the fifteen-minute mentor strategy. I have done a live about this. I like to make a list of the people whom I would think are out of reach and figure out how I could get to them, who they are, what could I ask them and then schedule and plan it out. Ask them questions every couple of months. Often, we say to ourselves and I’ve certainly done this, “I don’t want to bother her,” or if I got one answer, “I’m not going to bother her until a year later.” You have another question where you need that help and they’ve forgotten who you are. Put that in your calendar.

Always remember the law of reciprocity. It does not matter that this woman is three runs above you on the executive scale. If you are conscious of the fact that you have had this exchange, hold her in your awareness. You never know when you may run across someone who might potentially be of benefit to her in some way and then you offer that introduction. Don’t trip all over yourself and give unnecessary introductions. Keep your attention open for when there are those opportunities.

I always ask, “Is there anything I can do for you, a connection I can make?” Many people say, “Nobody ever asks me that.” Another thing I will say is, “My network is large and eclectic. There are a lot of different people from different parts of the world. It’s quite possible I will know somebody who can be helpful to you.”

I was talking to a fellow presentation skills trainer and she said, “I’m desperate for a speaker trainer who speaks Mandarin.” I had to find someone because she needed to help a Chinese company, someone who was bilingual and Mandarin. That’s the odd conversation that maybe you can help with and would be very useful. Can we talk a little bit about how you changed the language around the inner voice that says, “I shouldn’t bother her?” How do you help your clients get past that one?

When you hear, “I shouldn’t bother her,” I like to get my clients to play the what if game. “What if I’m disturbing her and then she never wants to speak to me again?” There are all these negatives that we can say, “I tell them to flip it around. I shouldn’t bother her but what if I do and she is delighted to have someone give her a moment of break from what she’s doing?”

“What if I do and she is taken with the fact that I asked this question? What if I do and that one question leads to a whole conversation? What if I do and she answers that question and then each time I see her, she starts reaching out to me and I start reaching out again?” Take it and turn the what if. We can what if ourselves down to the bottom of the pond and find ourselves down there sucking scum. Let’s take that exact human habit of what if and elevate ourselves.

Can you give us an example? You’ve had some very famous people endorse your book. Did you use the what if there?

What if at this point is pretty much a part of my makeup. What I did use there is I reached out to individuals I know who are several steps ahead of me but they are familiar with me. We’re not great friends but they’re familiar. I shared that my book was getting ready to launch. If they had anyone they felt should be aware of the book early, I would be very grateful for that introduction and then they poured in. Direct introductions poured in. Instead of just recommendations, they were sending introductions.

I attribute this partly to the fact that “what if” has become a part of my energy and presence. I also attribute a lot of it to the fact that in spite of the fact that these individuals are 2, 3 and 4 runs above me, at one time or another, I have sent someone to them who was valuable to them. It’s that law of reciprocity. You’re never too far below someone else to know someone that will value them.

To be helpful, my coaches and alliances are always saying, “You’re always giving. Why don’t you ask? You send someone a client. Ask them for a commission. You send someone a connection. Ask them to help you.” I don’t do that enough. I don’t ask for help. I teach others to do it. When I’m doing it for myself, I need my strategic alliances, the women who keep me accountable and catch me if I’m playing small. How do you put together a group of alliances who are going to help you and catch you when you’re playing small?

You start by identifying the topic you want to address. You’d start with a topic. It may be business acceleration or sales increases. Whatever it is, pick your topic. Who in your immediate circle and just above do you know who might enjoy having a consistent network of 8 to 12 women who meet once a month to share, explore and support one another?

You then keep building. I recommend never going over number twelve. If you’re going to meet once a month, twelve ensures that we’re busy. Nobody shows up every time. It ensures that there’s always going to be enough membership. You will be able to have a viable meeting and it doesn’t become so cumbersome that when the majority or all show up, you have a waste of time. It’s all about not wasting your time but maximizing your time. Come together.

Whatever it is that you are creating that group to be for, develop an accountability system that all of you participate in. You encourage each other through and call each other out when someone is stepping into a space of less than they are capable and worthy of. One of the great things about a strategic alliance group is women are under-mentored and are resistant to receiving mentorship. More than that, they are hyper-resistant to paying for mentorship for themselves. That’s a gift too few give themselves.

A strategic alliance group can start into a mode of getting mentorship but it’s in a collective or a group. One of the things that is most helpful is when you are in this group. If you are someone who has resisted mentorship, you don’t like to expose when you’re not doing everything perfectly. If you have this regular group of women with whom you’ve built trust and you get pushback periodically, you become accustomed to experiencing it as helpful support instead of condemnation. You then can begin to receive pushback and support in greater numbers of areas.

SWGR Lesley Michaels | Leadership Lessons

The Missing Mentor: Women Advising Women on Power, Progress and Priorities

Speaking of mentorship, I would love to have you read this marvelous quote you have from the great Mary Stutts, who has written a wonderful book about mentors. I probably moved the papers around but that would be a good thing to end on.

Mary Stutts, author of The Missing Mentor, “Women are way behind in developing and utilizing mentors. Women need to create a development plan to gain experience and be deliberate about each step of the way. Even in executive positions, very few women have any sort of development plan and that is scary.” I could not agree with her more. I find it very scary.

Lesley Michaels, thank you so much for being on our show. I’ll see you on the next one.


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About Lesley Michaels

SWGR Lesley Michaels | Leadership LessonsLesley Michaels ran up the ranks of corporate oil before women were common in that industry. Later pivoting into coaching she became a highly sought-after public speaker on the topic of habitual human behavior. Lesley has trained and led programs around the globe in the areas of mindset-reset for effective communication, resilience, leadership, transformation, and relationships. Her powerful and practical talks offer a unique bridge between self-development and professional excellence. Each presentation is crafted to inspire, empower, and guide people to achieve greater impact through heightened awareness, authenticity, transparency and audacious action.

Lesley shares skills, tools, strategies and practices, based in brain-science that extend value beyond the event-setting to achieve sustainable results. Reinvention, resilient leadership, and lasting personal, professional and business growth are the cornerstones of what Lesley brings to every speaking and coaching engagement.

Most recently, Lesley has employed all her passions and well-tuned skills toward development of a new company, Never Too Late Media.
This umbrella brand houses her ‘Women We Should Know’ podcast, her book ‘A Circle of Women’ being released early 2021 and her event organization International Strategic Alliance of Women.
Coaching and advocating for those with unacknowledged or under-valued voices is central to Lesley’s life and work. Often referred to as ‘the coach’s coach’ Lesley Michaels is admired for her inspiring impact on creative thinkers, social innovators, transformational coaches and heart-centered leaders worldwide.