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.