Leadership by Examples: Are People Really Alligators?

Mar 21st, 2011 | Category: Columns, Leadership Talk
By Daniel R. Tomal

My wife and I recently took a vacation to the Florida Everglades—one of the last frontiers of America—where we saw all sorts of exotic plants and animals including storks, herons, manatees, loggerhead turtles, deer, dolphins, and alligators.

We were surprised to see the multitude of alligators lying on the banks of the channels in the Florida sunshine, totally ignoring us passing by, except once when we got within 20 feet of a mother alligator and her babies and she bellowed at us not to come closer.

My fascination with these creatures prompted me to ask a lot questions to the park ranger. We learned that the animals of the Everglades prey on each other and that the king of the Everglades is the alligator. I asked the park ranger, “Who is the predator of the alligator?” And she responded, “Other alligators.” Her response surprised me. “Alligators prey on themselves?” She explained that, ironic as it may seem, alligators are a threat to each other. She said that alligators are very territorial and they will fight and kill each other for power and space.

While flying back home, I began to realize that human beings are much like alligators. Humans are also the king of the animal world, and very territorial, power seeking, controlling, and protective of their belongings. Humans, like alligators, will fight and kill other humans over land and power. Gang members will kill other gang members to protect their turf, and students in our schools will harm other students for the pettiest of reasons. On a large scale, countries go to war with other countries and kill thousands of people because of territorial or political disputes.

On an individual level, people have conflicts with each other simply because of political, religious, financial, philosophical and ideological differences. And some will even resort to physical violence to others for the merely driving into one’s lane on a highway, allowing their dog to roam on their lawn, or taking someone’s newspaper. Unfortunately, people resort to these same primitive behaviors as the alligators.

So, how does this relate to the business of education? Educators can play a significant role in teaching constructive values and dispositions in the classroom. As educators we need to teach our students the importance of patience and sensitivity to others. We seem to live in a continuum in our society. On one end, we live in a hyper sensitive world where the most innocuous statements about race, politics or religion can send a person into rage. However, on the other end, people can be terribly insensitive to the racial, political or religious backgrounds of others. We need to somehow strike a balance between these two. People need to lighten up, and at the same time, show a little more sensitivity to others.

The Bible teaches us the importance of peace, kindness, humility, gentleness, and self-control. “Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love” (Ephesians 4:2). These same principles can be employed in the classroom. Christian educators can include these values within lesson plans and public school educators teach these values through character education.

For example, recent conflicts between Republicans and Democrats have escalated, at times, to outright hostility which polarizes our government and does not serve as a good example for our students, or our society. In fact, at times, the conflict has been so bad that neither side has been willing to work with the other. Educators can use this political example in discussing the issues as well as strategies for mutual respect and collaboration. People need two kinds of skills, content knowledge and constructive relationships to achieve a successful outcome. A model for this expression is: Qo = Qc + Qr. The quality of the outcome (Qo) is equal to a person’s content knowledge (Qc), and his or her ability to engage in a productive relationship (Qr). Educators can incorporate this model into their lesson plans and relate it to politics, world events, and other facets of society as a way to build content and relationship skills and reinforce the importance of constructive values and dispositions.

Concordia University Chicago has established a well-balanced set of dispositions of effective educators. These consist of empathy, positive view of others and self, authenticity, meaningful purpose and vision, and creativity (CUC, Dispositions of Effective Educators, 2011). Candidates are required to successfully demonstrate these dispositions, and an assessment of the candidate is performed by multiple reviewers. This process serves a useful purpose of building the relationship skills of our students and promoting the importance of constructive dispositions for society.

We can all play a role in demonstrating and practicing principles of good values and dispositions, especially as educators. We need to continually remind ourselves of the power of values of empathy, respect, tolerance, and patience with each other; otherwise, we’ll be no different than the alligators.


Dispositions for Educators, Concordia University Chicago, Graduate and Innovative Programs website, 2011.

Editor’s Note: A version of this commentary appeared in the Chicago Tribune, “Voice of the People” on March 5, 2011

Author Information

Daniel R. Tomal is Professor of Leadership at Concordia University Chicago. He may contacted at Daniel.Tomal@CUChicago.edu.


Tags: , , , ,