Are You An Elephant or A Hippo?


Not all leaders are effective leaders. They may have the title, but that doesn’t mean that others are following, because some leaders are like elephants, and some are like hippos. Which kind of leader are you?

Despite how you might feel about leading, we need leaders! They keep their team focused, motivated, and positive while pursuing the right goals. Leaders are essential in the midst of change, and vital in cultivating innovation!

Maybe you aren’t a leader in the typical sense. That doesn’t mean you can’t be influential. You might be surprised at the pull you have in your circle! And, even if you don’t lead others, you have the responsibility of leading yourself. We all do!

Both elephants and hippos are among the largest land mammals and are considered dangerous. They have similar characteristic such as being hairless and having tusks. The males of both species are called bulls, the females are cows, and their young are calves.

Elephants & Hippos

There are also some striking differences between the two!

Elephants are social, friendly, and very intelligent. They have a reputation for being caring and sensitive. An elephant has the remarkable ability to remember elephant friends and locations over several decades. Reports of elephants that have not crossed paths for 23 years remembering each other are not out of the ordinary.

Physically, elephants have large ears. African elephants can have ears of up to 21.5 square feet. To enhance their hearing, elephants use their ears to funnel in sound waves from their environment and are able to hear lower frequencies that humans are unable to hear. Unlike us humans, elephants also use their feet to listen to sub-sonic rumblings.

For their massive size, elephants have very small mouths! Experts believe that elephants can communicate at a low frequency from 5-6 miles away. In fact, two-thirds of what an elephant communicates is at such a low frequency that humans can’t hear at all.

Elephants also use their ears as cooling devices and are able to lower the temperature of their bodies by five degrees by cooling the blood in the veins of their ears.

The elephant’s trunk is more than just a nose. It is a tool to grab food, communicate, drink, and caress their young.

Hippopotamuses on the other hand are aggressive in nature, often fighting daily. Did you know that they are considered one of the 8 most likely animals to kills you? It’s been said that the deadliest place in Africa is the space between a hippo and the water. They kill about 2900 humans each year!

The males will display their gigantic teeth, often 20”-28” long, and use their mouths as sledgehammers. Their mouths can be as large as 4 feet wide and are able to open 150 degrees. That’s a big mouth!

While they have excellent hearing, their ears are tiny.

Curious about whether you Lead like an elephant or a hippo?

You might be an elephant leader if you…

  • Are all ears and listen – really listen!
  • Listen, process, and deal with situations in a way that cools things down in heated situations.
  • Have a small mouth. You think before you speak. You ask more questions rather than “tell” and you speak softly.
  • Feed on information to help you grow as a leader. An elephant feeds 16 hours a day! It’s essentially a way of life.
  • Use your nose as a tool for positive things besides just being “nosy.” You are curious, and that curiosity inspires the great questions you ask. You are able to sense how others are feeling because you truly care!
  • Take relationships seriously and it’s apparent in the way you communicate and in your interactions with others.

You might be a hippo leader if you…

  • Have tiny ears and your keen hearing causes you to be judgmental.
  • Tend to be aggressive and view others as a threat.
  • Have a big mouth and use it in destructive ways: talking too much, criticizing, complaining, or speaking in threatening ways. You feel a need to hammer others with your opinions. You raise your voice. Hippos often make a noise like thunder that can be heard a mile away. (Remember the elephant… his low tones can be heard up to six miles away.)
  • Think you know it all. Hippos only eat 4-5 hours a day compared to the elephants 16 hours a day.
  • Sniff out the dirt and the weaknesses of others rather than their strengths using your nose as part of your “sledgehammer mouth” weapon.
  • Find yourself involved in frequent conflict.

Want to be more of an “elephant-like leader”? Here’s how:

1. Improve Your Listening Skills

Challenge yourself. Pause ten seconds before responding and sharing your thoughts. Work on being a more empathetic listener. Ask clarifying questions. Focus on what the other person is saying. Don’t jump to conclusions – question your assumptions.

2. Watch Your Words and Tone

Your words might suggest one thing, but your tone might convey something negative. Pay attention to the way you communicate.

A gentle response defuses anger, but a sharp tongue kindles a temper-fire. Proverbs 15:1 (MSG)

3. Devour Information

No one knows everything. There’s more to learn and plenty of areas to grow and develop. The finest leaders not only take in information, they also digest it and actively apply it to their lives! Elephant-like leaders are eager to learn.

4. Notice the Needs of Others

Observe – pay attention to what’s going on with the people you lead. Invest the time to care and understand the needs of those around you. It will make you more of a person that others want to follow, builds trust, and strengthens relationships. Just like elephants use their noses to sniff things out, they also use it to display affection for their young.

5. Diffuse Conflict

A strong and powerful personality is part of what makes people leaders. At the same time, learning to temper this power and maintain harmony is a treasured trait.

6. Be a Team Player

A collaborative approach to leading, finding solutions, and reaching goals is more effective than any one man show. Be a leader who works well with others, asks amazing open-ended questions that encourage creative thinking, and invite others to use their strengths to help the team reach your goals.

The truth is that none of us are 100% elephant or 100% hippo. Most of us are “elepotamuses” or part elephant and part hippo!

Chime in! What steps do you need to take to be a more elephant-like leader?


Originally posted in July 2104, and it’s been a favorite! It’s been updated and revised just for you!


Image: Can Stock Photo Inc. / curvabezier


Marvae Eikanas

Marvae Eikanas is an author, entrepreneur, ICF certified coach, Career Direct Consultant, DISC consultant, and HBDI practitioner. She helps her coaching clients sharpen their skills, face their fears, eliminate funky mindsets, hone their habits, and cultivate clarity so they can THRIVE personally and professionally. Schedule a consultation with Marvae here.


  1. April on July 21, 2014 at 4:45 pm

    Love this! And it is definitely the first time I’ve been inspired to be an “elephant”! Thank you for another great analogy that motivates me to do better.

  2. Kim Seghers on July 21, 2014 at 5:45 pm

    I learned something new today I’m so glad I found your blog . I guess I’m a little of both. I guess I’m an elepotamuses ! Have a lovely week!

    • Marvae on July 21, 2014 at 9:45 pm

      Thanks for stopping by Kim! I hope you will pop back by!

  3. Betsy Parker on July 21, 2014 at 6:44 pm

    Marvae – this is so wonderfully written and with great imagery! Trying daily to be more elephant!

    • Marvae on July 21, 2014 at 9:45 pm

      Wonderful! Being more elephant-like begins with intention. 🙂
      Thanks for taking the time to stop by and the kind words, Betsy!

  4. Angela Edwards on July 21, 2014 at 9:44 pm

    This was entertaining, encouraging, and educational! 😀 As I was reading through, I was thinking, I’m a lot elephant and a little hippo – and then you gave it a name: “Elepotamsus” (too cute)! I’m not proud of my hippo skills, but they are present depending on the situation.

    I recall a time when I was an Office Manager, and I supervised an employee who would constantly call out every other Monday – without fail. When I caught wind of the pattern, I called her in to the office and really let her have it. I was HORRIBLE to her that day – threatening her and her job (I hang my head in shame…) Come to find out, had I just taken the time to LISTEN to her, I would’ve learned that the pattern stemmed from dealing with an abusive relationship at home when her fiance returned from his two weeks on the road as a truck driver. Once I learned that, I ‘took her under my wing’ and counseled her out of that bad situation – and she became a ‘faithful-Monday-employee’!

    Thank you for this wonderful post! Sharing! 😀

    • Marvae on July 21, 2014 at 9:44 pm

      So very easy to jump to the wrong conclusions; to lean towards the
      negative possibilities rather than giving people the benefit of the
      doubt. Those moments can often lead to the most amazing opportunities if
      we will challenge our initial thinking and get curious.

      Thanks for sharing a perfect example of how taking the time to listen lead to wonderful things.

  5. Ishema Toussaint on November 24, 2019 at 7:44 pm

    I really want to be good a leader and in these months got different responsibilities to lead others but it was hard. This blog helped me so much I must Notice the Needs of Others and try know what plan God has to the students and help them to reach to that.

    Jeremiah 3:15 it says And I will give you pastors according to mine heart, which shall feed you with knowledge and understanding.

    May God bless you, you help us?

  6. Marvae Eikanas on November 24, 2019 at 10:05 pm

    Ishema – delighted to hear you found this blog helpful. I know your heart is to lead well! He will help you!

Leave a Comment

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

The reCAPTCHA verification period has expired. Please reload the page.