What Lions, Hippos and Hyenas Taught me about my Business


Hyenas, yuck.

Who would want to be a sneaky, scavenging, underhanded hyena?

I used to hate hyenas. You’ve seen them steal hard-earned food from lions in nature documentaries. You’ve seen them conspire with Scar and decimate the Pride Lands in “The Lion King.” And that cackling “laugh.”

Hyena in the mudThey’re just so creepy.

You know what? That underhanded creepiness that we hate about hyenas is really a reflection of what we fear in ourselves.

Hear me out for a minute.

What you love about lions—their grace, their nobility, their beauty—is what you aspire to in yourself.

What you love about hippos—their earthiness, their easygoing nature, their adorable awkwardness—is what you accept in yourself.

But everything about hyenas—how they skulk around, how they take what they haven’t earned, how they look so freaky—is what you’re trying so hard *not* to be.

You want the power and the grace of lions and the easygoing nature of hippos, while you fear the underhandedness of hyenas.

Of course, I’m speaking metaphorically here. Unless you’re animal-centric like I am, you’re probably not consciously thinking, “I’ve got to be more like a lion and less like a hyena.”

The thing is, as powerful as these metaphors are, they’re also a great source of misunderstanding—about the animals AND about yourself.

Lions and hippos and hyenas aren’t everything you think they are. They’re much less and much more.

Just like YOU.

Everything you think about yourself, the image you hold of yourself, the identity you carefully fabricate—you are none of it and all of it.

You *are* the grace and the beauty of lions.

You *are* the earthiness and the adorable awkwardness of hippos.

And, yes, you possess the potential for the skulking, sneaking, stealing underhandedness of hyenas.

It’s all part and parcel of your true power. It never comes with all “good” and no “evil.” It’s none and both and everything wrapped into one big beautiful mess of a human life.

You’ve probably heard that male lions will conquer a new pride by defeating the ruling males, killing the cubs and then mating with the females to establish their own breeding line.

Yes, the noble lion pillages, rapes and plunders.

hippo entering the waterIt’s not just lions. Male hippos do the same thing. Can you imagine?!?

Yes, those lovable and adorably awkward hippos will conquer a new pod by defeating the males, killing the babies and raping the females.

A little more bad news about lions: Did you know that they don’t just hunt, they also scavenge and steal from other predators—just like hyenas? It’s true. How’s that for nobility?

Now that I’ve ruined lions and hippos for you, let’s elevate hyenas a bit.

Sneaky, underhanded hyenas live in matriarchal groups, led by an alpha female. They do not conquer other groups and kill their babies. Yes, they will scavenge and steal, but they are also powerful, strategic hunters—often even better hunters than lions.

Hyenas are actually pretty awesome. Living in matriarchies like they do makes them a lot like elephants.

You love elephants, right? It’s time to start loving the smart and strategic hyena, too.

Now that we’ve cleared up some of the misunderstanding about these animals, let’s clear up some of the misunderstanding about yourself.

I said that what you hate about hyenas is what you fear in yourself.

You want all the beauty, grace and power of the lion but none of the scavenging and stealing that you associate with hyenas.

Cutting yourself off from part of your power cuts you off from all of your power.

It’s like having an 8-cylinder engine in your car but using only 2 cylinders. You may as well not have those other 6 at all.

I understand the fear that comes with powerthe fear that your smarts will turn into trickery, that your strategy will become manipulation, that your ambition will lead to unearned riches. Instead of learning how to manage these very real possibilities, you block your power, extinguish your passion and cut yourself off from who you really are. I know because I’ve done it and still notice myself doing it sometimes.

That’s why it’s so important to pay attention to our fear.

Fear is never a “one and done” or even a “5 steps to banish fear forever” type of thing. It is an ongoing process. Even as I teach other people how to manage, learn from and release fear, I continue to work on it in myself.

When I was on safari in Kenya and Tanzania last month, I found myself constantly wondering, “Where am I cutting off my full Lion power? Where do I need to bring in more Hippo power? How has being afraid of my Hyena side kept me stuck?”

I discovered that I wasn’t using the power of my pride—both literally and figuratively.

I haven’t been taking advantage of having a strong network of connections. I’ve been trying to do everything alone, while lions know that there is more power in the group.

I also realized that I haven’t tooted my own horn when I should. I had fallen into the trap that so many women do of being dismissive of my accomplishments.

Self-deprecation doesn’t get you noticed. And when you’re an entrepreneur, you must get noticed.

They Hyena side I’ve been afraid of also has to do with strategy and connections. I usually feel as if the only way to ensure that I’ve “earned” something is to do it all myself.

I’ve been hesitant to reach out to potential JV or promotional partners out of fear that they would think I was trying to get something for nothing. Of course, this fear has completely ignored the value I’d be bringing to them.

Be a lion. Be a hippo. Be a hyena. You don’t have to pick just one. Be all; fear none.

How about you? Where are YOU cutting off your full power, running on only two cylinders, being stuck in fear in your business?

Share with us in the comments section below:


About the Author, Kelly Eckert

Kelly Eckert is an author, professional speaker, and shamanic leadership coach. She is a graduate of Harvard College with a bachelor's degree in biological anthropology and Tufts Graduate School of Arts and Sciences with a master's degree in biology.

Kelly is a certified MentorCoach® and a certified coach member of the International Coach Federation. She is the creator of the Fear Releasing Method™ and Coaching with Animal Archetypes™. Kelly speaks nationally and internationally on the topics of fear and unleashing the animal within. Her latest book, What's Your Spirit Animal?, is now available. Find out more at kellyeckert.com.


  • Christine Frances Jefferson

    Kelly, I so appreciate your work. I dream of my animal spirit guides, I come across surprise animals in the most unsuspecting moments and am moved to awe. I truly know the value of animals we cross in our lives, whether in dreams or reality, and am so happy to know that you are bringing this out to the world in a way that is interesting and captivating for a western audience.

    • That’s awesome, Christine! So glad to hear that you notice and listen to your animal guides. Thanks for reading and responding!


Hyenas, yuck. Who would want to be a sneaky, scavenging, underhanded hyena? I used to hate hyenas. You’ve seen them steal hard-earned food from lions in nature documentaries. You’ve seen them conspire with Scar and decimate the Pride Lands in … Continued