Sunday, 13 May 2012

Bird brains and leadership

A few years ago, when I was in the garden with my two daughters, Jenny drew our attention to a sight that always makes me stop what I'm doing and gaze incredulously at the sky above. I am referring to the inspiring sight that is a skein of geese. Seeing the geese in their familiar 'V' formation reminded me of a lecture delivered by Dr Richard Holloway at an international conference in Edinburgh on School Leadership, in which he suggested that humans had much to learn from nature as far as good examples of leadership is concerned.

The first lesson is: work as a team. Geese migrate long distances flying in V-formation. This formation results in reduced wind resistance, which allows the whole flock to add around 70 percent greater flying range than if each bird flew alone. Geese find out quickly that it pays handsomely to be team players. Second, wise leadership: when the leader at the apex of the V gets tired, it is relieved by another goose. Leaders rotate, empower, delegate, and even step down when it's in the best interest of the team.

How often do we see this taking place among organisational leaders? Wise leaders ensure that their followers are well trained and developed in order to achieve true empowerment and so that succession is smooth. Third, humane behaviour: if a goose drops to the ground when it gets hurt or sick, two of its colleagues go down with it to take care of it until it either gets healthier or dies. In this fast-paced and competitive age, how often do we see leaders going out of their way to help colleagues who are in trouble? I would suggest that the best leaders do. I am in no doubt that in organisations, morale, productivity, and loyalty increase when employees look after each other and are treated humanely.

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