We often think that to be like a lion is simply to be brave and courageous, or to live like the “king of the jungle.” But it is far more complex. Lions show courage in the face of most danger with purpose and ever-mindfulness of what is truly much bigger than themselves. For a lion without their kingdom, their pride, or their cubs is a lone lion. And a lone lion is a dead lion.

They stood apart from one another by only the width of the narrow dirt road in the late savanna sun. One in full length and width, glaring its enormous tusks and pointing its trunk at the adversary with a stern warning. The other glared back, half turned and crouching in lethal defiance, baring large, white fangs and black, contrasting gums that roared in response. It was a standoff – though one was 70 times heavier than the other.

The bull elephant had decided that his herd would cross into the next territory by way of a more convenient and lush, forest corridor. Unfortunately it was in the path of several newborn lion cubs. The lioness said, ‘no.’ There was no match – the elephant clearly outsized the lioness, however she might posture. And there were more elephants coming. 

But she stood her ground.


The Kingdom of Miracles

There was once a special kingdom that existed to serve children. They served them all in any and every way they could. It was the passion of each person who worked within its walls, and it was equally appreciated by the community. In fact, the mutual adoration between these two was so great that each year there was a gathering in the streets to celebrate and honor those who served and were served.

People gave their money and time to this kingdom. They wore its symbol on their clothing and told stories about it to people they knew. Miracles were performed in this place every day. And few miracles aren’t meant to be told about. So in turn, the people and this kingdom continued to share stories, grow and prosper.

Of course, life wasn’t necessarily easy. Miracles are hard to come by, after all. To work in this kingdom required great amounts of training, working at all hours, enduring much, and giving much. 

Yet still they served, and the miracles continued.

Changes and Leadership

One day, the kingdom began to see many changes from both the outside and inside. New rules came from authorities far away, dictating how miracles must be done differently. Children needed help that was greater and more complicated. Resources became scarce. The miracle workers were tired and losing hope. Families of the children became restless and needed more. Giving became less, and stories about the miracles became fewer.

Even worse, soon voices in the community began protesting that some children received miracles who they didn’t think belonged in the kingdom at all. They went to the leaders, cried to the town criers, and made threats against any who continued performing miracles for these children. They wanted to dispel any ‘differences’ they saw, even if they were only children – such is often the instinct of people in times of fear and insecurity.

Leaders of the kingdom were in a state of crisis. They knew they must act – and quickly – in order to continue the great work they had always done. But with the challenges they now faced, they could not agree how solve them together. And one leader in particular became restless and impatient.

They began to huddle together in twos and threes behind closed doors. Everyone wanted to fix the problems, but no one wanted to risk their roles and territories of the kingdom if they got it wrong. So they nodded in meetings and committed to new ways of doing things, but in practice they mainly stuck to what they knew best.

The Elephant

Of all the leaders, there was one known as the Elephant. He proclaimed to have all the answers and let those around him feel his weight. When he didn’t like something, he stomped and trumpeted. When he didn’t know what to do, he recounted tales about ‘the good ole days’ and told his team how they were conversely letting everything fall apart.

“I don’t have time or attention for this. Just forget those different children and focus on the normal ones,” he said about the protests.

“Why do our people need so much talk and reminding of why they perform miracles? Tell them to just do their jobs!” he exclaimed.

“If this kingdom isn’t going to do what we need, I’ll just build a new one,” he began to say.

And so he did. 

With time, the Elephant began imagining and talking about a new kingdom. Even more, he spent every waking moment planning for it. He began moving resources, redirecting roads, and pointing everyone toward the new kingdom – which didn’t yet exist, of course.

Soon enough, the other leaders lost any remaining sense of what they should be doing. They didn’t know if they should be living in the current or future, in-progress, kingdom. They retreated even further into their corners and lowered their voices to stay out of harm’s way.

The Lion

There was one leader who finally said, “No. We must do the right thing for everyone.” With her experience and commitment to a shared vision, she knew it could be done better. There could be change without leaving the old kingdom behind. The miracle workers needed hope, and their leaders needed hope! And most of all, she knew all children deserved the miracles no matter who they were.

Unfortunately, at first – as with most movements – few stood with her. The world outside was too dangerous. The risks to their roles were too high. The problems were too big. And they all feared the Elephant.

Nonetheless, she found courage and persevered.

First, she took a new message to the miracle workers, one that reminded them of why they began their work and how they could still do great things. Then she showed them with small changes here and bigger changes there. They grew stronger and emboldened. They wanted to make the message a reality. 

She went to the community and reminded them what the kingdom stood for, how all children belonged to it, and why miracles were so important. She engaged the other leaders and reminded them how they especially could make a difference. Some began to leave their corners and offices to join the movement. They all began to feel something they hadn’t felt in a while: hope.

But the Elephant hated the work of the Lion. He wanted everyone’s focus to be on his new kingdom. “Stand down,” he said sternly.

Still, she persisted. She knew she must help in the here and now.

“If you continue this vanity, your days will be numbered,” he growled.

Still, knowing what was at stake, she persisted. 


The determined bull elephant charged across the road. The lioness dodged but gave no ground. He swung his great tusks. She skirted them. They tangled more and more.

Then he hit her.

Through the air, the lioness was hurled off the road and into the acacia brush. It was a sure hit, and it seemed she would at least be seriously injured. Others watched for a moment while the elephant shook and stomped, reveling in his resolve. Only dust filled the air on the mark where they struggled.

A silent moment surrounded the lone elephant, shaking off the dust of his fury.

But then, the unexpected happened. One by one, the other lions came to take the courageous lioness’ place in the road. They crept, they quickened, and then they leapt. They cornered, they roared, and they swung. Together, they became larger and more powerful than even the bull elephant. The power began to shift.

He stepped backward. Then again. And then again. Then finally, realizing he was overcome, the elephant turned back toward his herd and left the road. 

The lions did not pursue. They had held the line and protected their cubs, and thus maintained the kingdom and their pride. 

They had the courageous lioness to thank – and she would lead again.



We often tend to think of lions as the epitome of bravery and strength. We picture them as larger than life, conquerors and rulers, loud and brooding – much like the bull elephant. But the humbling thing about lions is that they are nothing without their purpose and their pride. In fact, they are almost always outmatched and taking on larger than life challenges. They are only at the top of the proverbial food chain when together.

The persevering lioness in the tale above knew that doing the right thing would mean taking on challenges much bigger than she could handle alone, and that she might not survive. She chose to do it anyway. 

That is what it means to be lionhearted.

  • What do you do when challenges seem too large to be solved? Do you slip back into what you know, or do you take on a new approach?
  • Who do you count on to accomplish big things? 
  • Effective leadership is often taking on more of the risk yourself – not just your team. Are you demonstrating this in the day-to-day?
  • When was the last time you did something chiefly because it was the right thing to do?

Notably, this tale may seem to be about being the lion and taking a side rather than walking strategically through the middle, or “between the lion and the leopard” as we say. But in reality, this leader – the lioness – was indeed fighting for the middle ground between the good of her people and the will of a ruler. She was demonstrating integrity, fortitude, and collaboration.

She was lionhearted in every way.

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