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  • Michelle Bernard

Leadership and the Elephant Matriarch

Did you know a herd of elephants is led by one female elephant called the matriarch? Recently, I've been learning more about how the matriarch steps into her leadership to guide, protect, mentor, and train up the herd's next generations of leaders.

It’s absolutely INCREDIBLE!

The matriarch is chosen as the leader for the herd for many reasons and ways that she demonstrates her strengths, interacts with other herd members, and how closely connected she was to the prior matriarch.


Choosing a Matriarch

When choosing the next matriarch, it's not just about being wise and the oldest in age. It has much to do with the matriarch’s strengths demonstrated in:

✔ problem solving ✔ communication skills ✔ social awareness ✔ community building ✔ patience ✔ decisiveness

The female elephant is skilled in problem solving. She is quick and decisive when she needs to make an immediate and important decision. The matriarch defends her herd in the threat of danger and can sense potential harm often before the other elephants. The herd members look to her to maintain safety and to guide them in decision-making for their well-being.


Not only is she advanced in decision-making and protecting the herd, but she also excels in communication. Part of why the matriarch is chosen is because she is socially aware, knows her herd well and their needs, patient in teaching and training up the younger elephants, and thrives on building relationships within the community of her herd.


It’s incredible to think about the strengths that just one elephant must have in order for the herd to willingly follow her leadership with complete trust in her.


Their Value in Mentorship

Another key factor in choosing the next matriarch is how closely related or connected the female leader was to the prior or another preceding matriarch of the herd.

Elephants train up their next matriarch in part simply by being in close relationship and proximity to the current matriarch. They value and understand the importance of learning through observation and guidance over time from more experienced leaders.


They are community-oriented animals who value training and teaching the younger in their herd. It’s not about being the strongest to seek personal gain. This is also true in the way they lead and prepare future matriarchs from a young age. The matriarch intentionally trains up younger elephants to become leaders and walk with them in close proximity so they will be ready to step in and lead the herd when she has finished her leadership service to them.

Her roles in leading the herd include guiding, protecting, teaching the herd, and training up the next generation of matriarchs.

What can we learn and gather from a herd of elephants and their approach to leadership?

Clearly their organization of leadership works for them and they continue to use this model.


What can we glean from them?


Learning from the Elephants

1. Growing your strengths


The matriarch leader of an elephant herd is chosen because of her many strengths she demonstrates. I'm so curious how each individual strength is formed and developed! It can feel overwhelming trying to grow and invest in all of your strengths and weaker areas at the same time. Focus on just one strength you’d like to grow and mature.


We are each given strengths and a unique combination to fulfill the purpose we were created for.

What’s one strength that you see as valuable in leading or impacting the people around you right now?

How can you intentionally grow that specific strength?

2. Know your herd

Learning from the matriarch elephant, it’s clear she would have a keen awareness of the members of the herd she is leading. She’s spent time with them, walked life beside them, knows their basic needs, and also understands their emotional needs too. The matriarch knows how to lead the other elephants well because she understands and directly provides for what they need from her in order to thrive and continue growing sustainable herds.

So how about for YOU… Who’s in your herd?

What do they need from your leadership?

First, you need to consider what the needs are they are looking to you to provide. I encourage you to put yourself in their shoes and truly reflect on what they need.

3. Seek mentorship


If you want to grow your leadership skills, find a mentor who will take the time to invest in you and help you mature. Just like how the matriarchs value and take intentional time to train up and grow future leaders, we too need to seek out being trained and mentored by someone that is a bit further along in life, an area of expertise, or leadership than where we are currently.


I see this as a continual and ongoing need for any leader. We are never done growing and need community to learn from each other. I can't stress this enough that everyone needs the guidance and support from someone that has walked a bit more of life or has more experience to help give input and guidance.

4. Put your herd first


The matriarch lives her life continually putting her herd before herself.

Their needs and protection are her highest concern and she's committed to giving her life and own safety for their sake. She demonstrates a posture of humility as strength, not weakness. How important is being humble to you?

To be honest with you, when I'm leading others, staying humble is not natural or easy. I have to continually assess and readjust my mindset and heart attitude so that I don't lose focus of putting my "herd" first. Leading others well considers them of more importance than yourself and acting in response to this belief.

I LOVE how even an elephant matriarch values this so much she lives it out daily.


5. Train up leaders


Finally, the 5th way we can learn and apply leadership skills from the elephant matriarch is to train and mentor others.


This also goes back to the mentorship piece only this time it’s reversed.


You have what it takes to be a leader and to train up the leaders that will follow after you!


It’s necessary to be pouring into and investing in other’s growth and maturing as you also learn from leaders investing in you.


The elephants know that in order to keep their herd thriving for generations to come they can’t focus on only growing themselves, but as they mature, they need to be investing into younger generations that will follow after them and lead their grandchildren (grand-elephant??) and great, great grandchildren.


I think it’s safe to say that we can learn so much from the leadership of a matriarch and apply it to our own. It’s pretty incredible to think that we can learn all of this from these amazing animals!