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.

Some other posts you may enjoy:

  1. A Springtime Reminder on Leadership, Communication, and Collaboration
  2. Is Leadership an Art or a Science?
  3. Changing our Behaviours – A Lesson From the Birds
  4. Are You Fitting Employee Personality Into Your Leadership Puzzle?
  5. Leadership Biz Cafe Podcast #3 – Interview with Jesse Lyn Stoner
  6. It’s Not You, It’s Me – Is Narcissism Good for Leadership?


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Tanveer Naseer is an award-winning and internationally-acclaimed leadership writer and keynote speaker. He is also the Principal and Founder of Tanveer Naseer Leadership, a leadership coaching firm that works with executives and managers to help them develop practical leadership and team-building competencies to guide organizational growth and development. Tanveer’s writings and insights on leadership and workplace interactions have been featured in a number of prominent media and organization publications, including Forbes, Fast Company, Inc Magazine, Canada’s national newspaper “The Globe and Mail”, The Economist Executive Education Navigator, and the Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center.

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