Leadership Lessons from a Geese Gaggle

Yesterday was an awesome day. I rose early for prayer, spent a few hours tending to my yard and garden, and then set out for the day with my wife and youngest children to visit two of their siblings at their sleep-away camps north of the city. It was great to see our kids and to revel in the joy that they were experiencing away from home.

Our ride up to camp was quick and inconsequential. We made it in 1.5 hours with no traffic to speak of. The way home was a different story, however. It took nearly thirty minutes longer, with many folks returning home from their weekend getaways. Still, we were doing relatively well until about 1000 feet from our home exit. Suddenly and unexpectedly, traffic ground to a complete halt. The culprit: a gaggle of geese that were marching in line along the road’s left lane, followed closely by a car with its hazards on, many onlookers with cameras out and a host of others that were desperately trying to switch lanes. It was quite a scene.

The geese’s disruption was fascinating. The road was filled with large, powerful metal machines capable of traveling at impressive speeds. They were driven by people eager to arrive quickly at their destinations.  Yet, they all ground to a screeching halt to make way for one of nature’s slowest and most vulnerable species. And the part that may have been most striking was the way that the geese were completely oblivious about the impact that they were making. They just carried on, as if they had all the day in the world.

Much has been written about leadership lessons that can be learned from flying flocks of geese. Their formations, how they support each other in takeoff, the way that they rotate leaders and communicate (as in honk) have all been well documented. But this gaggle demonstrated their form of leadership from the ground level.

The following were my takeaways:

  1. Maintain priorities – As all of this was going on, the adult geese made sure to keep everyone in line and care for their young. Sometimes leaders can get so caught up in their projects or problems that they fail to keep their ship in order, keep folks informed, and consider everyone’s needs. Steady leadership demands that even in the most difficult situations leaders remember those that are most vulnerable and also critical to their success, namely their people.
  2. Stay the course – It would have been most logical and obvious (at least from my perspective) for the geese to simply fly off in the face of danger. Perhaps they didn’t because their young wouldn’t have been able to keep up (see #1 above). Either way, they showed a sense of calm commitment to the course and were able to get where they wanted despite the obvious threats that surrounded them.
  3. Disruption means getting a bit uncomfortable – Folks who disrupt begin by challenging themselves by setting and achieving goals. They think and act differently and find comfort in being uncomfortable. While geese seemed unflustered as they meandered along the road, I suspect that they were a bit uncomfortable being surrounded by hordes of large, intimidating, and noisy onlookers.
  4. It’s OK to be disruptive, especially when you’re cute – Disruption is part of our reality. You can’t go for very long without seeing another example of how disruptive thinking has changed the way we think and act. While such disruption can be difficult for some of us – particularly the traditionalists – to get used to and incorporate, it certainly makes it easier when such disruption is caused by charismatic folks who are easy to root for. Be mindful of the fact that no matter how great your ideas are, people still make most of their decisions based on emotion and connection, not rationality. Make sure to use your personality and persuasive abilities to get people to rally behind you.

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