A Lesson In Leading (And Following) From Migratory Geese

Follow the Leader

At least a couple of times a year, most people in the United States catch a glimpse of migratory geese. As climate, food, and habitat conditions change, these birds make the journey either north or south – depending on the season. So what can we learn from these migratory geese? As it turns out, a lot!

Migratory geese fly in the famous V formation. The bird at the front of the V is the leader, and he/she is taking the brunt of the wind drag for the entire formation. The result – dramatically improved range by reducing the drag on the entire flock.

Here’s how it works:

  • The lead bird cuts through the air and assumes the brunt of the drag produced by the wind.
  • The rest of the birds are perfectly spaced so that the wind drag is reduced by up to 65%.
  • The birds flying at the front and at the tips (back ends) of the formation are rotated regularly to reduce fatigue.
  • As a result, the entire flock can increase their range by up to 71%!

NOTE – This exact technique is used in military flight missions for precisely the same purpose…to increase the range of the formation, as well as to maintain visibility and coordination.

Lesson 1 – Leadership

Far too often we associate leadership with a position of power and/or authority, but this is a grave mistake. Every person in every organization has the opportunity to be a leader…literally every single day. The migratory geese provide us a great example of this, as well as the power a culture of leadership yields to an entire team or organization.

As soon as the lead bird fatigues, one of the other birds systematically (and without complaint) takes over. As a result of this focus on the team and leadership, the birds are able to fly up to 71% farther! Imagine what your team could accomplish if you were able to go 71% farther than you otherwise would have. Imagine beating your competition by 71! A culture of leadership, while requiring lots of hard work and nurturing, yields these kinds of results.

Courageous Leadership Challenge – Cultivating a culture of leadership requires lots of effort and commitment, but it is actually straightforward. Frequently challenge those on your team to lead key initiatives or projects, make it cultural that everyone presents/challenges ideas, and constantly seek out opportunities to give everyone the opportunity to lead at the next level. Not only does this develop leadership ability and increase job satisfaction, but it also creates one of the Holy Grails of business – scale. There really is very little to lose and everything to gain.

Lesson 2 – Cheering Your Leader(s) On

There are few mistakes I see made in business more often than people waiting on their leaders to make mistakes so they can criticize and armchair quarterback. Take a close look (and listen) at the migratory geese the next time you get the opportunity. What you’ll notice is that birds in the formation are constantly honking.

Why are they spending energy honking? Shouldn’t they save that energy for the flight? Actually, they are spending their energy wisely by cheering the leader on, for they know that the farther he/she can go, the better off the entire flock will be.

In business, we are far too often content with waiting (even hoping) for a leader to falter, only to pile on and criticize. In reality, the best possible action is to step in and help, provide encouragement, and ultimately cheer him/her on. If you are not pulling for the success of your leaders (regardless of your level of affection for them), you are ultimately rooting for the failure of yourself, as well as the entire team.

Courageous Leadership Challenge – When was the last time you actually did something to lend the leaders of your organization a hand? Not because you were asked, but because you genuinely cared about their success? Don’t assume that your boss doesn’t want/need help, as I can assure you he/she does. As a leader of a team of over 400 people, I can tell you that I want (and need) those around me to help me succeed. For if I fail, we all fail. And if we all fail…well, you get the idea.

It’s almost spring now, and I look forward to seeing the geese return to my hometown of Chicago. They provide a reminder that great lessons of leadership are all around us – we just have to look for them.

Lead. Courageously.

Doug's Signature

  • Inspiring.

    • Thanks, Andrew. As always, I appreciate your perspective. Thanks for stopping by.

  • Terrific analogy! Your flying V leadership structure promotes adaptability, trust, and respect amongst teammates. Teams with these attributes will “soar” above the rest! Thank you for sharing this thought-provoking metaphor!

    • Thanks, Katharine! I appreciate you stopping by and offering your perspective.


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