TanveerNaseer.com

Leadership Coach, Speaker, and Writer

A Springtime Leadership Lesson From The Birds

As this week marks the official start of Spring for most northern countries, I wanted to take the opportunity to revisit an idea I wrote about sometime ago about a seasonal event in these parts and the lessons we can glean from it on leadership and organizational success.

In addition to the appearance of the first seedlings in our gardens, one of the most emblematic symbols of the arrival in Spring in this area is the return of Canada geese flying in V-formation across the sky. Although I’ve discussed the lessons on teamwork and collaboration that we can learn from this seasonal migration, seeing these birds in flight over the weekend brought to mind some additional lessons we can apply in how we serve those we have the responsibility to lead.

1. Encourage your employees to develop their skills
One of the reasons why Canada geese fly in V-formation is in order to help reduce air drag, where the birds at the front essentially reduce the air resistance so that the birds at the back of the flock have an easier time flying.

Naturally, this means that the birds in the front expend the most energy flying and consequently, experience fatigue before the other birds do. This is the reason why this particular bird formation shifts so much as the other birds move up to take the lead, giving the birds who were flying at the front a chance to rest and recuperate.

It’s a smart strategy as it not only allows the birds to share the workload, but it also ensures that the flock is not dependent on a few strong birds to help them fly over the great distances of their migratory path.

When it comes to managing your team or organization, it’s easy to fall into the trap of relying on those ‘star’ players in your organization to help your team achieve its objectives. However, as employees begin to look for ‘greener pastures’ and competition begins to increase for the limited talent pool that will become available in the years to come, it’s important that you provide all of your employees with opportunities to stretch themselves, developing not only their current skill base, but learning new ones as well.

Like the Canada geese, this will help your team to become more fluid and capable of responding to whatever challenges or opportunities they might come across in their pursuit of their shared goals.

2. Communicate your vision so that everyone understands where they need to go
One of the most interesting things about watching the Canada geese flying in their signature V-formation is the effortless nature with which they shift lead positions while still managing to stay on course and in formation. Obviously, one reason for this is how much they communicate with one another – something that can be easily heard from the ground even from far away – about their position and when they need someone else to take over the front position.

Of course, the geese don’t just communicate while they’re in flight to make sure all the birds in the flock stay on course. Even before they take flight, there’s clearly some communication going on within the flock in terms of deciding when to leave and where they’ll land in between flights. This way, whether a few birds get lost or wounded before they reach their destination, the rest of the flock won’t be adversely impacted because most of them know where they need to go.

In most organizations, there’s still a tendency to lean on organizational goals/direction as being something that’s shared on a ‘need to know’ basis. However, as we continue to move towards a more global competitive market where industry shifts/changes are happening with greater speed and immediacy, leaders would be better served by making sure everyone on their team is not only aware of the organization’s vision, but of how their efforts contribute or are tied to the organization’s plans.

Providing your employees with consistent and timely communications will not only help them to understand what course they need to take, but of when and why course changes will be needed as a means of ensuring that they stay on target.

3. True leaders put those they lead ahead of themselves
There are very few migratory animals which seem to evoke as clear an image of how we perceive leadership than the Canada geese. After all, when they’re flying in V-formation, it’s not hard to recognize whose the leader at that moment – it’s the bird flying out in front and center of the group.

This bird’s physical position certainly reflects our own assumptions of what leadership is about – of that solitary figure who stands in front of us, serving to guide us towards a common goal or destination. And yet, if we look at the reason why the Canada geese fly in this particular fashion, we can truly understand the real goal and value of leadership.

Remember, the reason why Canada geese fly in V-formation is to help reduce air drag, in essence working together to help make the process of migrating less strenuous. And as I pointed out above, the geese at the front of the formation are the ones who take on most of this burden, giving those birds that fly behind them an easier time flying to their destination.

Similarly, what’s needed in today’s organizations are not leaders who are simply interested in directing those they lead to some predetermined goal. Rather, what’s required are leaders who are willing to roll their sleeves to help clear the way so that their employees might be successful in their collective efforts to reach their shared goals.

The arrival of Spring is often associated with a sense of renewal, of shedding off the layers of protection that staved off the harsh conditions of Winter in preparation for new growth and opportunities for forward-moving change. As the sight of the Canada geese flying overhead reminds us, Spring is also a great time to reassess how we approach our leadership and what measures we can take to better serve those under our care.

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20 Comments » | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | March 20, 2012 by |

20 Comments on

A Springtime Leadership Lesson From The Birds

  1. On March 20th, 2012 at 8:47 PM gregblencoe said:

    Tanveer,

    The Canada geese are amazing animals. It's really interesting to think about how much communication and teamwork goes into their migration.

    I really like the idea of sharing information with all employees and not just executives/managers. I believe it's very important for lower-level employees to buy into the organization's vision and goals. After all, these employees are typically closest to the customer.

  2. On March 21st, 2012 at 9:13 AM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Good point, Greg. It's ironic how so many organizations still don't appreciate how much front-line employees can influence the way customers/clients view their organization and its offerings.

    It's another reason why leaders need to continually share information with the rest of their team so that they understand not only the direction the organization needs to take, but why it matters in context of their shared purpose.

    Thanks again, Greg, for sharing your thoughts on this piece.

  3. On March 22nd, 2012 at 2:29 AM Bassam Salahi said:

    Reading this article, really makes me wonder of how a small world we live in. We are surrounded with a bundle of idea concepts related to management (how we should run our businesses); what better is the Canadian Geese. Fascinating.
    (from Amman, Jordan)

  4. On March 22nd, 2012 at 9:56 AM SammyP said:

    Great article, interesting parallels. Have always been fascinated by geese flying in formation over such distances. Worth noting, as well: It seems that one side of the V usually is longer than the other side. Interesting reason for that…there are more geese on that side!! ; ) Have a great day!

  5. On March 22nd, 2012 at 9:56 AM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Thanks Bassam; glad you enjoyed it. And I agree the world is getting smaller which provides some great opportunities to learn and discover new insights and ideas on how we can better lead those we serve.

    Thanks again for your comment, Bassam.

  6. On March 22nd, 2012 at 4:17 PM marilyn barnell said:

    Hopefully they will steer clear of the airplanes!

  7. On March 23rd, 2012 at 8:13 AM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Thanks Sammy; glad you enjoyed the insights gleaned from this seasonal migratory event.

  8. On March 23rd, 2012 at 8:19 AM Tanveer Naseer said:

    I'm sure pilots are among those who are only too familiar with this seasonal event, though hopefully without having encountered any incidents because of it.

  9. On March 23rd, 2012 at 9:36 PM Becca said:

    Wonderful post. You really came up with a clear concept of a good leader. I have no idea that there is a reason behind the formation those birds.

  10. On March 23rd, 2012 at 11:02 PM Shaquille said:

    I agree with the above comments, You have really come out with a great concept of leadship, and plus who doesn't like watching birds in their various types of formation

  11. On March 24th, 2012 at 1:25 AM Arif Sajjad said:

    Lesson to learn for managers, this is really an ultimate. These days sales teams are stressed much and managers enjoy high salaries, frequent out of station, resulting in cracks of sales force. The energetic and confident sales person would prefer to fly alone or try to search the V- team so as his future also grows along with team.

  12. On March 24th, 2012 at 10:37 AM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Thanks Becca. It is interesting to learn why animals and other natural mechanisms behave the way they do and how that information adds to our understanding of the the nature of things.

    That idea in itself is another reason why leaders should regularly communicate and inform their employees of the rationale behind the decisions being made so that their team can help in the execution to ensure their ideas take hold and lead to the end result they're after.

  13. On March 24th, 2012 at 10:39 AM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Thanks Shaquille; I'm glad you enjoyed how this analogy of why the Canada geese fly in V-formation can provide us with some practical lessons on how leaders can serve their employees.

  14. On March 24th, 2012 at 10:46 AM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Hi Arif,

    The best and most successful leaders understand that one of their primary responsibilities is to help their employees succeed in their efforts. And the best way to do that is to be attentive to their needs by asking where they need more help and support and doing what they can to provide it.

    That's why I like sharing this example of the Canada geese migration because it so clearly demonstrates what happens when leaders put others before themselves in terms of reaching your objectives.

  15. On March 26th, 2012 at 11:43 AM Candice said:

    It actually make me feel that I'm doing it correctly in the office. I make sure my subordinates take steps ahead day by day. They would really appreciate it once you leave and they take your position. As they really are ready by the time you leave, so you know you did your best and was successful.

  16. On March 27th, 2012 at 8:20 AM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Hi Candice; glad to hear that this piece has reinforced your approach and understanding of how to best lead your team to a successful outcome.

  17. On March 28th, 2012 at 12:32 PM @timage said:

    One of the best insights I've gained from the Canadian geese is their ability to travel together, while switching roles throughout the journey. In a sense, they do a good job of flattening their organization so that everyone can contribute (everyone has to contribute) and everyone moves together. It's a great picture of community in motion.

    Speaking of birds, I recently wrote a post about leadership lessons one can learn from the iPhone game – Tiny Wings. You may find it useful – http://timmilburn.com/five-leadership-lessons-fro

  18. On March 29th, 2012 at 8:55 AM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Absolutely, Tim. They certainly embodify the advantages of communicating a shared goal and creating conditions for open collaboration where people focus less on titles and responsibilities and more on what they can do to help the team collectively succeed in achieving their objectives.

    Thanks for pointing out your piece; I'll be sure to check it out.

  19. On April 5th, 2012 at 12:44 AM jessica john said:

    Usually leaders don't like to share their goals with their employees as your share this point that "Communicate your vision so that everyone understands where they need to go". If a team don't know where we are going and what we should achieve then how they can be successful Only those companies or organizations meet their targets who trust on their team or employees. Your leadership points are very effective for every boss to become a successful boss.

  20. On April 12th, 2012 at 3:05 AM Deepika said:

    Great post Tanveer! The concept of leaders is explained beautifully!!

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