Kenneth Feld, Chairman of the Feld Companies including Ringling Bros. Circus, was born into the circus business, taking over from his dad, Irving Feld. Having grown up in the business and then run it for decades, Mr. Feld viewed elephants as an absolutely essential and valuable part of the circus experience. As opposition to the use of elephants mounted over the years, Mr. Feld vigorously defended Feld (the company and himself). He fought tooth and nail to keep the elephants, and set the record straight about Ringling’s proper treatment of these amazing creatures.
Last week Mr. Feld announced that Ringling would phase out elephants by 2018. Though still passionately believing in the propriety of his company’s use and treatment of the elephants, he surrendered.
Regardless of who was right or wrong on this issue, Mr. Feld’s decision took guts, and shows what a true leader is all about. His moral dilemma and ultimate decision against his company’s own self-interest demonstrates a powerful form of leadership in a world so focused on winning. My guess is that he came to see the war, the battle, to be wrong , in and of itself – even if Feld’s use of elephants wasn’t.
Very few of our leaders today have the self-confidence and ego in check enough to surrender even when they “know” they are right. But the practicality and pragmatism of the decision is a perfect example of tremendous low ego leadership. Many other “leaders” in sports should take note and ask themselves: what is their own elephant in the room?