Ego and the Anti-Leader: Dentist Walter Palmer Goes After Easy Game

I try to write about positive leaders and leadership trends here, but in the past few weeks, my heart has been heavy with the news that Walter Palmer killed a protected, named, tracked and beloved lion in Africa. And that’s got me thinking about ego-driven leadership.

Cecil the Lion, dead, posed with the

Cecil the Lion, dead, posed “triumphantly” with a lion he previously caught and killed.

The killing will have consequences, according to EcoWatch: “The Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force said Palmer is the culprit and he was abetted by two Zimbabwean men, professional hunter Theo Bronkhorst and farm owner Honest Ndlovu,who will appear in court for allegedly helping lure the lion outside of its protected area to kill it, reports the AP. They are charged with poaching offenses for not having the required permits and could face up to 15 years in prison if found guilty, reports the BBC. Palmer could also face poaching charges.”

Cecil the Lion, when alive....

Cecil the Lion, when alive….

And already, Palmer faces rage over the internet. He has reportedly had to close his practice, take down his Facebook page, and officially apologized for killing a “collared” lion, claiming he didn’t know the lion was known and loved until they approached the body. (So, then, how does he explain hiring poachers, trying to destroy the collar, and keeping the head? Just asking….)

Whatever further happens to Palmer, his actions are a demonstration of bad leadership, ego driven, adrenaline-fueled, and decidedly old school.

1. He hunts big game, for trophies, despite the rising tide of species extinctions, wildlife territory infringement, (other) poachers, and other modern tragedies. He does not see himself as part of an ecological or social system; he claims power (with a gun) over nature. That kind of leadership is shortsighted, ego-driven, and status-conscious.

2. He acts first and apologizes later. He did it with the bear he killed “outside an authorized zone” in 2006, and he did it again with the lion, whose protected status he tried to cover up before he was discovered. That kind of leadership refuses to take real responsibility for choices, preferring to satisfy personal goals and reflect on the consequences until after the choice was made.

3. He persists in careless behavior, hiding behind legal protections for hunting, and only taking responsibility when his transgressions are uncovered. Let’s think of hunting as a metaphor here. (Note: I know, lots of people hunt! I know it’s legal! I know it can be a tool to manage animal populations and get food! That’s different from trophy hunting.)

If hunting is a metaphor for striving individually, pitting yourself against a challenge, building skills to overcome adversity and outwit someone else with superior tools, then it’s a metaphor for misguided leadership, leadership that doesn’t think about one generation, much less the seven generations that Native American culture mandates for community management. That’s the kind of leadership that drives Monsanto to develop products that kill bees and other pollinators, poison consumers, and change non-GMO crops through cross-pollination. That’s the kind of leadership that gets big money and big status before the world realizes it’s created big problems.

So, yes, it’s technically “only” one lion, one dentist, and two African hunting poachers posing as guides. But it’s a glimpse into a leadership problem plaguing us today: the dangerous idea that human ego and the human species is superior to every other creature, and that we have the right to lead from that attitude, in our ecological behavior as well as in our human communities! 

Pope Francis spoke recently to this cruel and self destructive attitude in his epistle against climate change. What will wake us up, finally, from this fantasy of superiority, status-seeking and irresponsibility, this anti-leadership that imagines itself as achievement and progress? Where do you see this attitude changing? I’m looking for hope, here — help me out!


  1. Thank you, Carol, for taking leadership responsibility on this issue. Irrespective of where we personally stand on guns or hunting, for example, leaders must be objective when it comes to issues of blatant immorality–especially as we assign ourselves to the innocence of a defenseless lion.

    The same is true of what we all have seen and heard with respect to Planned Parenthood and the abortion of the many defenseless fetus–as well as the many young girls who regret the abortions they have. We as leaders—who feel for a lion and take up the cause–must also at the very least pause at our moral and societal responsibility to ponder this situation. Our youth are at emotional risk because they are curing the moment, yet not totally understanding their aftermath…when it hits
    them what they’ve done…what they’ve really done.

    This is analogous to instructing our staff members to cut corners now but at the risk of incurring the cost of wrong-doing later. There’s a decency to leadership. If we are not the hero of our own story, then we’re missing the whole point of our humanity.

    Thank you again, Carol, for speaking out…and speaking UP.


    1. Thanks for your thoughtful comment. There are a lot of analogies for this problem, of using power and influence to support immoral acts, and power over, without reflection, as if what we do doesn’t matter as much as what we own or the influence we want to control. I like what you say about pondering our responsibilities, and paying attention to the big picture, and the abortion debate is a place where, as a society, we’ve had a hard time coming together to really talk about the small and large health and cultural issues without shutting down the whole conversation. That needs a bigger kind of leadership than the power-over, absolutist kind I wrote about in this article. And your example of cutting corners because you can (making the immediate bottom line matter more than the future health of our customers). Decency in leadership may be uncomfortable, the more powerful we become — I wish it became easier, though.


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