Leadership Coach, Speaker, and Writer

A Springtime Reminder on Leadership, Communication, and Collaboration

For those who live in one of the northern climates like I do, the arrival of Spring is unquestionably a welcome event on the seasonal calendar. With the anticipated return of flowering gardens and bright shiny leaves on the neighbourhood trees, I couldn’t wait to get to work on the garden, clearing away the debris left behind by the retreating snow.

While hanging outside in my garden, I heard the unmistakeable calls of a flock of Canada geese migrating back home from their winter sojourn. As I watched the flock pass over in their distinctive V-shaped formation, I was reminded of lessons on leadership, communication, and collaboration which these birds so effectively illustrate.

1. Leadership is about putting the needs of others ahead of yourself
When the Canada geese travel in V-formation, the lead bird’s job is not simply to guide the other birds as to which direction to fly. Indeed, the lead bird’s primary role is to help reduce air drag so that the flock can fly for greater distances without expending most of their energy.

The same approach applies to the role of leadership, where the function is not to get others to simply do your bidding, but empowering those around you to succeed in reaching your organization’s shared goal.

2. Your employees should have a clear idea of your organization’s direction
One of the reasons why the geese can so easily interchange which bird flies in the lead position is because they all have a clear understanding of their flight path. They not only know which direction their flock needs to head toward, but they also know how long they need to fly before they reach their next rest stop.

When we talk about leadership, one topic that typically arises is the importance of open and clear communication between an organization’s leadership and its employees. And yet, how often does that communication involve defining for your team a clear explanation of how their efforts contribute or fit into the organization’s bigger picture?

By not clearly communicating both your organization’s goals – and in particular how your team members’ efforts fit into that larger picture – you’ll limit your employees’ ability to anticipate, adapt, and react to unforeseen changes that can deter your organization from reaching its objectives.

3. Your leadership should foster interdependence instead of dependence
If you’ve ever watched the Canada geese travel in this formation, you’ve no doubt seen how it’s not a static formation. Instead, it’s quite fluid with the birds taking turns flying in the lead position. Given how the lead bird’s key role is to reduce air drag, it’s understandable that they need to take turns so that those in front can get a break and reserve some of their energy.

What the geese demonstrate through their migratory process is that leadership is not so much a static position as it is a disposition, referring to one’s individual abilities and capacities under certain conditions to help lead your team toward reaching your objective.

As we see with the Canada geese, leadership is not about making your employees dependent on you. Rather, it’s about creating an interdependence that serves to benefit everyone in the organization.

4. Collaboration requires both equal participation and contribution by all members
In addition to allowing them to take turns between reducing air drag in the lead position and taking rest breaks by flying further back in the formation, by dividing the workload among all the birds in the flock, the geese are able to cover 70% more distance than if they were to fly on their own.

Similarly, when leading a team or group of employees, it’s important that processes are created to ensure that the workload is not only evenly distributed, but that it taps into the various strengths and abilities of your team members. Such measures will allow your organization to cover more ground than those which permit internal silos to divide and stratify their collective efforts.

The passage of these flocks of Canada geese overhead is certainly a clear signal that Spring has indeed arrived. It’s also a useful reminder for leaders to take stock of how they view their role within their organization and the measures they take to communicate both their vision and the role each of their employees play in helping their organization reach its objectives.

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21 Comments » | Tags: , , , , , , | April 4, 2011 by |

21 Comments on

A Springtime Reminder on Leadership, Communication, and Collaboration

  1. On April 4th, 2011 at 1:38 PM Dorothy Dalton said:

    Tanveer – this is such a timely post and so appropirate with the green shoots of spring to emphasise such key points. Topics we can all profit from re-examining!
    My recent post Will there be an end to copy-paste selection

  2. On April 4th, 2011 at 2:17 PM edmusesupon said:

    Tanveer, I really like your observations on leadership, and the timing is quite apt, as Dorothy noted!

  3. On April 4th, 2011 at 5:58 PM @christianfey said:


    The importance of understanding what collaboration IS cannot be overstated. So many these days see collaboration as getting their ideas pushed through and accepted by everyone, without concerning themselves with other points of view. Great post!

    My recent post Treat Great Engineers Like Gold

  4. On April 5th, 2011 at 4:21 PM RedTigerChris said:

    I think that's one of the biggest problems with Apple is that leadership has fostered dependence on Steve Jobs – he has become the company. That scenario is great when he is around, but leaves a gaping vacuum when he leaves. Reminds me of the book "Good to Great."
    My recent post Tech Tip Tuesday- The Google Related Search Operator

  5. On April 6th, 2011 at 11:38 AM Mark said:

    Great post, Tanveer. Your points reminded me of a video a friend shared yesterday on Facebook, of CD Baby founder Derek Sivers at TED saying that a focus on the leader can be overrated once the crucial first few followers are in place — because successive followers base their behavior more on the first and most passionate followers, and not necessarily the leader. This is the reason I think that employers whose leadership spends a lot of time with senior and mid-level managers to help them do their jobs better, often enjoy a healthier bottom line based on things they have a big stake in bringing about, such as adherence to the company vision and mission, camaraderie and commitment.

  6. On April 6th, 2011 at 4:32 PM Laura Hunter said:

    As someone who teaches leadership from a four-legged point of view I love this feathered perspective of leadership. One more piece of proof that maybe we humans are not the smartest species in all instances. I will never again refer to Canada geese as dumb, stinky birds!
    My recent post Turning Loose

  7. On April 6th, 2011 at 4:59 PM FinallyFast.com said:

    You certainly think quite a bit deeper than I do when you're in the garden! Love the analogy though. I think nature and the many organic processes and structures around us can teach us a lot about collaborating in the most effective way. The spontaneous team work of ants and bees is another fine example of a unified understanding of an organization's direction leading to more effective team work and collaboration. Definitely makes you think a little bit more about the world around you for insights into effective business strategy.

  8. On April 6th, 2011 at 9:20 PM sjamundson said:


    This is the first time I have visited your site and I love the analogy of nature and leadership. Similar to you, I believe that nature and sentient beings have so much to teach us human beings about leadership, work, and organizations. Patterns, dynamics, impermanence, and relationship continue to repeat if we only listen. I can almost hear those geese honking down to you!

    Thanks so much.
    My recent post Table Manners for Teams

  9. On April 8th, 2011 at 6:25 AM delena said:

    I definitely have come to welcome the sight of Canada geese returning for the spring! When I hear the first flocks coming, I always get so excited!

    And this is a really great analogy; I wish more companies took this sort of advice. There might not be as much burnout and disillusionment, or employee abuse, in the workplace if everyone understood just how much everyone depends upon everyone else.


  10. On April 18th, 2011 at 10:53 PM charlene said:

    Brilliant reminders! As we are growing up, we were taught about leadership. It’s just sad to know that many people don't practice proper leadership. Some are just thinking about themselves and do not care about the feelings of other people, especially their employees. Good thing that we have people like you who are taking their time to remind us about this significant lesson on leadership. I really appreciate it!

  11. On March 27th, 2012 at 10:00 AM A Springtime Leadership Lesson From The Birds | TanveerNaseer.com said:

    […] 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 […]

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