I have a term I sometimes use in professional contexts, and I realized the other day that few people actually know what I’m talking about when I refer to a particular individual as The Rabbit.
Here’s what I mean when I call someone “The Rabbit.” In greyhound races, all the dogs are motivated to race around the track because they’re chasing a mechanical hare on a rail that runs around the inside of that track. The dogs aren’t really racing against each other, they’re all just chasing the mechanical hare and one of them does it faster than the rest of them.
In any contest between people, sometimes someone will emerge (in my mind) as The Rabbit. The Rabbit is the absolute clear winner; everyone else is competing for second. (The greyhounds can beat each other, but none of them can actually catch the mechanical hare.) But The Rabbit is more than just a clear first-place leader. The Rabbit refers to someone who is a clear first-place leader and inspires others in the competition to be better because of them.
In every sales office there’s a top seller. But there’s not always “The Rabbit.” In order to earn that term (one of high praise!), they not only have to be the top seller, they also have to represent something aspirational to the rest of the team. The rest of the team has to look up to this person, want to be more like them, even want to beat their record – but they like them. They chase them out of admiration.
I’ve seen plenty of professional teams where the top performer was a huge jerk that no one liked, no one wanted to learn from, and had no interest in motivating or leading others. Those people don’t rise through the ranks, they don’t become leaders.
Why? Because the essential qualities that make you The Rabbit remain even when you’re not in the competition any more. You can lead others even when your managerial duties keep you from being in the same race as the people you’re leading. You can’t do that if you were never The Rabbit to begin with.
The most essential tool of leadership is this: lead by example. Whatever you wish your team to have, you have to have more. If any of the greyhounds were actually faster than the hare, the dog wouldn’t pass it and keep running – it would catch it, and the race would halt. The Rabbit sets the pace.