Since Steven Spielberg scared people out of the water with the movie Jaws, sharks have had a reputation as fierce predators that attack humans.

The fact is that sharks are mostly peaceful animals. They are innately curious, non-adversarial, and as solitary fish, are predominantly introverted.

When they’re not mating or eating – neither of which they do as often as humans – sharks are actually very docile and sensitive creatures.

So why am I talking about sharks? Well, here are some interesting facts about shark behaviour that could boost your resilience and enhance your leadership skills:

  • 1 Most Sharks are Introverts

    In a famous case, a female great white shark swam 6900 miles over 99 days from the coast of South Africa to Australia, the longest migration of any shark on record. For just over three months, “Nicole” swam alone and, being naturally curious, most likely explored new scents and temperature changes, and found new ocean currents to help her along her way.

    Introverts use alone time to do just what Nicole did: they reflect on information, can be curious in their ability to tolerate uncertainty, and are often more resilient than extroverts due to their innate ability to quieten their minds and really listen to the perspectives of others in a very mindful way.

    According to resilience expert Dr Angela Smith, this type of listening increases relational resilience. Of course, this doesn’t mean that in order to be a better leader you have to be an introvert. It does, however, suggest that extroverts who are able to quieten down, mindfully listen, reflect more, react less, and be more curious, will be better leaders than those who
    don’t practice these essential resilience skills.

  • 2 Sharks Read The Body Language Of Other Sharks

    It is estimated that 70 percent of all human communication is related to body expressions, vocal tone, and facial movements, and that leaders who are able to more accurately access empathy can “attune” to changes in body language better than leaders who don’t (see my empathy video for more details). This is the basis of social intelligence and authentic leadership, both of which are increasing in popularity within corporate training rooms.

    Similarly, sharks ritualistically swim in circular patterns when gathered in social settings in order to recognise the “pecking order” during their feeding seasons. This is an extremely interesting sight from an observer’s perspective, as it appears that they are mirroring each other in the water as they swim side by side, or when they encircle each other.

    Great White Sharks

    The larger the shark, the higher the rank in the food line, and the better the chances this shark will be eating more than the smaller shark it measured itself against.

    Interestingly, sharks don’t have to fight each other in order to establish a higher rank, and there is no jumping the queue to get more food. Instead, sharks have established a completely peaceful and non-violent way of establishing respect, and this is one of the most peaceful displays of social ordering found in the animal kingdom.

  • 3 Sharks are Good Listeners

    Perhaps the best listeners of the sea are dolphins, as they use whistling, clicking and chirping noises, and echolocation to listen to each other and to detect changes in their environment. But dolphins are natural extroverts that live in large social groups throughout their entire lives. As introverts, sharks listen with sensitive, jelly-filled pores around their heads called ampullae of Lorenzini that allow them to detect changes in electrical signals in their environment.

    Whereas dolphins have a blowhole that allows them to make a range of sounds, sharks have no such advantage. Instead, thousands of the jelly pores vibrate when a shark receives an electrical signal, something that is called electroreception. Sharks can then listen to the changing movements of muscles in fish, and anything else moving within a two-mile radius. As such, shark brains are designed to detect smells and environmental changes. It may be said then that sharks are the listeners of the sea, just like introverts tend to be the better listeners of people.

Stay tuned for Part 2 in my series of “What Sharks Can Teach Us about Resilient Leadership.”