In a Cave with a Bear on a Sunny Day: Lessons for Leaders in a Jam


Circumstances don’t make a person; they reveal him or her. – Richard Carlson

The story is told of two hunters who came across a bear so big that they dropped their rifles and ran for cover. One man climbed a tree while the other hid in a nearby cave. The bear was in no hurry to eat, so he sat down between the tree and the cave to reflect upon his good fortune.

Suddenly, and for no apparent reason, the hunter in the cave came rushing out, almost ran into the waiting bear, hesitated, and then dashed back in again. The same thing happened a second time. When he emerged for the third time, his companion in the tree frantically called out, “Woody, are you crazy? Stay in the cave till he leaves!” “Can’t,” panted Woody, “there’s another bear in there.”

It’s certainly not uncommon as a leader to be in tight spots from time to time. Like the two hunters you can find yourself in a bear jam that can alter the course of your day in a hurry. And when you take into consideration the way stress impacts your team members then it is important as a leader to put it all in perspective.

Research conducted by ( cited some of the top causes of stress at work that include: no appreciation, no feedback good or bad, unclear policies and no sense of direction, random interruptions, and lack of control to name a few. If these causes or any other infringe on the daily demands of your leadership then the necessity for perspective will be even greater.

We learn from the example of the hunters four lessons to consider when you find yourself up a tree, in a cave, or otherwise stressed out by the demands of your job.

Don’t panic. The first mistake the hunters made after discovering the bear was to drop their rifles and run. They immediately gave up any leverage they had by making a hasty decision based upon their assumptions.

When your first inclination as a leader is to panic without gathering all the facts you place those around you in compromising positions. Not every problem is as bad as it may appear at first glance and if you stay calm under pressure you can make smarter decisions.

Stick together. Each hunter reacted in a way that seemed right at the moment. One climbed a tree and the other ran into a cave. Now instead of being united in strength they are divided in weakness and have multiplied their problems. By doing their own thing they limited their options.

Sticking together and working together is a Leadership 101 principle. But when you consider the predicaments you can find yourself in when you ignore it then it makes the reminder worth repeating. John Wooden said, “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.” And in this case it can make the difference between sitting atop a tree as a meal-in-waiting for a bear and using your leadership skills to your advantage. Play it smart and stick together.

Consider the big picture. In the heat of the moment the hunters did what they thought was best. We all do. But unfortunately they failed to keep the big picture in mind. Ultimately, it was not the bear they could see that was the problem but instead it was the one in the cave they didn’t see at first.

Having a clear understanding of the big picture of your organizational mission and values is an essential element of your leadership. It’s through the prism of the big picture that the smaller ones are put into context. Don’t allow your immediate short term problem to change your long term view.

Run in the right direction. Out of fear the hunters ran. One ended up in a cave and the other in the top of a tree. Each had a perspective that was created by the direction they ran and where they stopped. While their problem (the bear) was stationary their approach was scattered.

Moving in the right direction is essential to solving the challenges you face as a leader. Having everyone on the same page is important. While differing perspectives is valuable it will not do you any good if you are not working in harmony.

It’s as you refuse to panic that you succeed. It’s as you stick together you win bigger battles. It’s as you consider the big picture that you stay focused on your mission. And it’s as you run in the right direction you solve the right problems.

© 2013 Doug Dickerson

Doug’s books: Leaders Without Borders & Great Leaders Wanted! are available at his website. Order your copies today!

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About dougdickerson

I am Certified Leadership Trainer, author, columnist, and speaker. Husband to Alicia, father to Katelyn and Kara, and "Pop" to terrific grandson Tyson. I am an avid photographer, love the outdoors, and like to travel. I'm passionate about sharing my leadership insights and helping people reach their full potential.
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2 Responses to In a Cave with a Bear on a Sunny Day: Lessons for Leaders in a Jam

  1. cranstonholden says:

    Your book’s seem to be interesting. I’m gonna take a look and may have a couple questions later. Thanks for sharing.



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