TanveerNaseer.com

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 4:04 PM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Thanks Dorothy. I imagine a few of my neighbours were amused at the sight of my already trying to do some work on my garden so soon after the snow melted. Then again, thanks to my eagerness (or perhaps it's impatience) to work on my garden I had this serendipitous encounter with that flock of geese, leading to these thoughts on how we lead our teams with greater efficacy and meaning.

    Guess we can chalk up another point on the benefits of being a gardener.

  4. On April 4th, 2011 at 4:12 PM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Thanks Ed; I appreciate that and I'm glad to hear you enjoyed this piece.

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

    Tanveer,

    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!

    C
    My recent post Treat Great Engineers Like Gold

  6. On April 5th, 2011 at 2:31 PM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Thanks Christian. I agree with you that it's easy to confuse collaboration with simply getting others to follow your lead, especially among different groups or departments. That's why an important step that needs to be taken is to clearly articulate and define what's the key goal/objective that everyone wants to accomplish, much as these geese do. This way, the process is not so much reliant on one individual, but everyone in the team, resulting in both a greater commitment and collaboration among the participants.

  7. 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

  8. 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.

  9. On April 6th, 2011 at 12:50 PM Tanveer Naseer said:

    That's an excellent point and example you bring up, Chris. I think another good example we saw in the last week is the "Oracle of Omaha" Warren Buffett, the chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway. After the resignation of his successor, there's been a lot of speculation and debate over the future of his company. Given how clearly dependent the continued growth and success of his organization is directly tied him, Buffett is another example of a leader who failed to understand the value of creating a succession plan that has less to do with simply handing the reins to someone else as it does creating a culture and community of interdependence among all contributors.

    Thanks again, Chris, for bringing up this excellent point into the discussion.

  10. On April 6th, 2011 at 1:01 PM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Thanks Mark; I've seen Derek Sivers talk about the importance of the first follower and I think that's exactly what we see at work in these flock of geese. They're behaviour in terms of how fast and what direction to move is not defined by the bird at the front; rather, it's by following the birds closest to it. Similarly, in organizations, leaders can't realistically expect to be close to every employee. However, they can communicate and model behaviours and values that trickle down and manifest itself in their various team members. In so doing, we create an interdependance among your employees around a shared goal and sense of culture/values that's no longer dependent on the leader to constantly reinforce and push.

    Thanks again Mark for adding some more great food for thought to the discussion.

  11. 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

  12. 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.

  13. On April 6th, 2011 at 5:07 PM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Thanks Laura. And I completely agree with you that there is much we can learn from the other species we share our this world with. Glad I helped to shed some light on what lessons the Canada geese can teach us about leadership.

  14. On April 6th, 2011 at 6:37 PM Tanveer Naseer said:

    I've found through personal experience that disconnecting yourself from work and focusing on some completely unrelated task or project helps your mind to draw connections or see patterns that you wouldn't otherwise have found. Fortunately for me, that also includes working on the garden even though the ground is still frozen in most spots. Of course, in this case, it was also a chance encounter with a flock of migrating geese and watching it bend and fold and transform that helped to clarify these thoughts.

    I agree with you the ants and bees are other excellent examples from nature that illustrate the value of communication and collaboration to furthering a shared goal. Amazing how many examples there are in nature to inspire us in how to better serve and lead those under our care.

    Thanks again for your comment; glad you enjoyed this piece.

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

    Tanveer.

    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.
    Susie
    My recent post Table Manners for Teams

  16. On April 7th, 2011 at 1:13 PM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Hi Susie,

    First off, welcome to my blog; glad to have you sharing your thoughts here.

    I think you bring up an important and sadly often under-utilized action in your comments and that is the act of listening. Part of the challenge both leaders and employees face in light of today's hyper-accelerated work pace is making intentional acts to disengage themselves from their tasks and being receptive to hearing what those around them are saying. After all, so many of the internal problems/issues that arise in organizations today are a lack of communication between teams/departments about what they're doing and how those efforts are impacting others in their organization.

    Thanks again Susie for adding your thoughts to the discussion.

  17. 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.

    Delena

  18. On April 8th, 2011 at 4:04 PM Tanveer Naseer said:

    I agree with you, Delena, that it's unfortunate that most organizations overlook the importance of recognizing the inherent interdependence found in their workplaces. However, I do believe that thanks to the increase in global competition, pared along with the fact that organizations can no longer simply slash costs to save money, the time is coming where more organizations will be fostering within their workplaces the level of teamwork and collaboration as seen within the flocks of geese. Until then, we just have to keep sounding the drums until the message is heard.

    Thanks Delena for adding your thoughts to this discussion.

  19. 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!

  20. On April 19th, 2011 at 11:23 AM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Thank you, Charlene. That's very kind of you to say and I'm grateful to hear it.

    It's important for organizations and their leaders to recognize that the true role of leaders is not simply to guide those they lead, but empower them to do their jobs effectively and well. In this way, each employee becomes a full participant and not simply someone whose just clocking in their hours.

    It's an idea that I'm quite passionate about and I'm glad to lend my time and voice to in helping to get the word out for the benefit of both leaders and those they serve.

    Thanks again, Charlene, for your kind words.

  21. 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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