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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


Keys to a Winning Offense

On Sunday, the Baltimore Ravens squared off against the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII, considered by many to be one of the greatest sporting events in the world. In football, it is sometimes said that the best offense is a good defense. The theory here is simple – if you prevent your opponent from scoring, your team only needs to score once to win the game. In business, however, the opposite is true. The best offense is a great offense… period.

In business, it’s not as simple as scoring the most points. Sure, that’s part of it, but it’s really about growth. For example, you could score one more point than your competition in a sales year and technically “win” the game against them. However, your investors are looking for much more than that. Your investors are looking for growth. If you only score one more point than your competition, you are simply not growing. The key to growth is a high-powered offense that basically obviates the need to play defense at all. Let’s face it – if you are playing defense, you are losing.

The 5 Keys To A Winning Offense

Talent – As the great John Wooden often said, the team with the best players almost always wins. This is true, but there is an “almost” in this statement for a reason. Even the best players will not win if you do not support them with spirit and motivation, a great culture, sound strategy, and focus.

Spirit and Motivation – The spirit and motivation of both you and your team is arguably the most important aspect of a winning offense. History is rich with stories of otherwise outmatched armies that rose to the occasion and defeated larger, better equipped forces because they were highly motivated and believed in their cause. As a leader, the spirit and motivation of your team is your direct responsibility, so look in the mirror if morale is low. A demotivated and/or demoralized team is destined to lose. The key to spirit and motivation is an authentic belief that you can win, and this has to permeate the entire team.

Culture – Culture is a choice, and it is a direct reflection of the leaders in the organization. Every team has a culture, and it is guaranteed to be one of two things: good or bad. If you choose to be an uninspired leader who does little to create culture in your organization because “that’s just not your thing,” you are dooming yourself and your team. Culture is the glue that holds your team together, which is especially important during the most challenging times. Courageous Leaders work hard to create (and nourish) culture… every single day, as part of every single decision.

Strategy – Offensive strategy is critical. Great offenses are explosive, well executed, and hard for your competition to defend against. Consider San Francisco and the highly touted pistol offense they ran in Sunday’s Super Bowl. The key to this offense is that it is innovative, and it gives the quarterback the option to adjust on the fly, choosing from a variety of weapons. The intended result – a disoriented Baltimore defense that, despite knowing San Francisco will be running this offense, will have a very hard time defending against it. While San Francisco did not execute well on this offense in the first half, great execution in the second half brought them to within three points of an historic comeback. Lesson: you cannot wait until the second half to get your offense firing on all cylinders… it has to be flawless from the first play. I see this all the time in business: the offense ends up being great, but it wasn’t great from the start.

Focus – Even with all of the above in place, the best teams in business will lose without focus. Teams can have the best talent, highest motivation, a great culture, and a great strategy, but it will all fall apart without focus and commitment to the things that matter in the here and now – planning, organizing, and executing flawlessly. The “here and now” is the hardest part, as even top performers get distracted by things that are very important, but not for the game they are playing at this moment in time. Short-term focus must prevail when the game is on the line, which often means dialing back on longer-term thinking. For without winning today, there may be no long-term.

As leaders, getting the offensive mix right is critical to success. That’s because the complexity of the “real-world” and day-to-day obstacles (as well as other people in the organization) work to distract us from a pure focus on the fundamentals of doing what’s right to ensure our teams win. Whether you agree with my offensive mix or you have a better version of your own, stand strong as a Courageous Leader and let nothing pull you away from flawless execution of your offense.

Courageous Leadership Challenge – engage below and add at least one thing that you think I missed in my offensive mix.

Lead. Courageously.

Doug's Signature


Fact – as humans, we are better at deluding ourselves than we are at multitasking. Perhaps this explains why so many of us trick ourselves into believing that we can perform multiple complex tasks at once, despite the fact that research clearly dispels this myth. In reality, we are incapable of multitasking in even the most routine situations. Just ask my wife – she busts me 100% of the time when I attempt to read emails while on the phone with her!

Multitasking vs. Multi-thinking

While it is possible to do multiple basic tasks at once (hammering a nail while singing), it certainly is not possible to focus and think about multiple things at the same time. This is especially true when the things we are attempting to do simultaneously (answering email while on a conference call) rely on the same part of the brain (e.g., the part that is responsible for communication). Research shows that we actually have to stop thinking about one thing and switch to the other, but that we cannot do both at once. As it turns out, these “switching costs” are not worth it when the stakes are high.

Multitasking becomes especially problematic at work, and specifically in meetings. One glance around any meeting room reveals a variety of activities going on, from paying attention and contributing, to texting, emailing, and Facebooking. The most surprising part to me is that this behavior seems to get worse as we progress in our careers… at precisely the same time that we are paid more to be fully engaged thought leaders.

Think about it!

Do you think Peyton Manning is texting and reading emails while on the field practicing with his team? Absolutely not. And he certainly is not texting and emailing while on the field playing in a live game. Why, then, do so many professionals do this when “on the field playing?” It simply does not make sense.

I’m not suggesting that there is no place for multitasking in general. I am, however, suggesting that there is no place for multitasking when you are in meetings, on calls, or interacting with people. Your business, and your people, deserve your attention… as does your professional health.

Top Five Reasons Not To Multitask

Focus – Anyone who is the best at what they do is able to do something very well – focus. From professional athletes to the best leaders in the world, focus is a key differentiator.

Thought Leadership – As leaders, a major part of our value is thought leadership. You simply cannot be a thought leader if you are splitting your thought between multiple tasks/activities.

Engagement – The more you divide your attention, the less engaged you are. This is simple arithmetic, and it is indisputable. If you have 100% of your potential engagement to give, you give less than 100% to any one activity when you divide your attention. Do you want to be known for giving less than 100% to anything?

Respect – While not convenient, apply the golden rule here. Do unto others as you want others to do unto you. If you’d like people to engage and pay attention during your meetings or when you are speaking, afford them the same courtesy.

Advancement – Meetings are public, and they are an audition for promotion. Never forget this. If you stop multitasking for no other reason, remember that the better you perform in public, the more likely you are to get promoted.

Get Courageous

  1. At meetings you host, establish a policy of focus, attention, and engagement at the outset… and enforce it!
  2. When participating in meetings (yours or others), challenge everyone to give their full and undivided attention to the meeting… because the business needs and deserves it!
  3. Lead by example, and stay away from email, the Internet, and text messages during meetings. Most business meetings have breaks every couple of hours, which provides ample opportunity to scan and respond to critical messages.
  4. If a given meeting or conversation is not important enough for you to focus while attending, simply do not go. Stay in your office alone, where it is just fine to text, email, and Facebook – all at the same time!

Lead. Courageously.

Doug's Signature


A great friend, mentor, and one of the best leaders I know is a role model in inspiring action. His name is Brian Kibby. He approves investments faster than anyone I know (often on the spot), he leaps into action as soon as he sees opportunity, and he keeps his team moving much faster than most in the world of business.

What’s Brian’s secret? He comes from a place of “Sure! Why not?” In other words – he is looking for reasons to act, rather than reasons not to act. Is this risky? It’s not nearly as risky as not acting this way, lest your competitors and your customers will literally pass you by.

Too often, when we do not have 100.00000000% of the information that we could theoretically get our hands on, we put off decisions that present even the most microscopic amounts of risk. We “thoughtfully” delay decisions in the spirit of doing even more research and analysis, when all that we really need to make the call is readily available – guts and instincts. To no surprise, we often end up making the same decisions days, weeks, or even months later…only to have slowed our teams down and wasted the most precious of resources – time.

If you think this does not apply to you, it does. We all hesitate…all the time.

The most common of hesitations occurs when new ideas and suggestions of trying something completely different arise. We are naturally wired to resist and ask countless questions before trying something new. But the best (and most motivational) approach is to ask just a couple of questions…and then surprise the person with a simple response – “Sure! Why not?”

Try my “Sure! Why not?” recipe the next time you are presented with a new idea:

  1. Ask a series of questions to develop your understanding of the idea, but ask them in the spirit of looking for reasons to approve action.  Try this – “Wow!  This sounds really interesting.  Let me make sure I fully understand.”
  2. Add at least one idea of your own to make the original idea even better.  Try this – “Yes, and we could even do…!”
  3. Say, “Sure! Why not?”
  4. Reward their courage by challenging them to quickly (within one week) formalize a plan for your review, to including funding, timeline, anticipated revenue/savings, etc.
  5. Provided the proposal makes sense, approve it and challenge the person or team to take full ownership of driving the idea forward with your full support.

Embrace “Sure! Why Not?” and you’ll be surprised at not only what you see in the form of innovation, but by the overall sense of excitement and entrepreneurial spirit you quickly build in your organization.

Repeat after me…

Sure! Why not?

Sure! Why not?

Sure! Why not?

Now – go looking for ideas and use these three simple words as often as possible.  Your team, your customers, and, ultimately, your shareholders will thank you for it.

Lead. Courageously.

Doug's Signature


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