I woke not to the plaintive call of gulls or warring of crows, but by a very large flock of Canadian Geese. Although many geese feel completely comfortable not leaving our hospitable city, many Canadian Geese are heeding their internal monitors and flying south for the winter. I never tire of watching the perfect V-formations as they make their journey. I’m infinitely intrigued by the taking of turns in assuming the front and centre position of the V.
Leadership is only easy to those who never assume it. Taking the responsibility as a leader is always work. The direction the energy exerted, varies widely according to leader. Some leaders focus on to holding on to their perceptions of power, prestige or privilege. Other leaders are motivated by a quest to make a positive difference in their orbit. But when that lead goose takes the position at the front of the V-formation, they are working harder than any of the other geese. They take the brunt of the wind resistance with purpose.
The other geese are able to fly a little above the bird in front of them, so they reduce wind resistance and conserve energy. They can flap their wings less, keep their heart rate down, and therefore are able to fly far longer before needing a rest. When the leader at the front gets tired, that bird falls back, making Canadian Geese a fine example of distributed leadership. Allowing another bird to take the lead happens fluidly. There is no evidence of a struggle to maintain that lead position. The bird falls back to recharge. The new leader is given the support of the group.
I have watched group after group decimated by a leader that holds on to a leadership position so long that it becomes part of their identity. They are not able to pass the torch to anyone else without losing themselves. This makes the quest to hold on to that position even stronger until the only option for other possible leaders is to take their contributions elsewhere. We could learn from the geese and allow others to step forward with their own brand of leadership and way of moving forward.
Distributed leadership allows support also to be provided by the group. The structure of the group and the communication is also integral to the successful functioning of the group. The honking that woke me up this morning is encouragement to the other geese to stay in formation and fly at the same speed. The approach is that of a supportive coach as opposed to a harsh taskmaster. The V-formation lends itself to the ability to monitor each of the geese in the “gaggle” aka “the flock”. If a bird falls away from the group, two other groups break away from the group to fly with it. They honk encouragement to keep going and even stay with sick birds until they are strong enough to rejoin the group. Every bird is important. If the bird is unable to recover and dies, two other birds are by its side. The whole group takes responsibility for caring for other members and can depend on being supported if needed.
The leader is included in the support and encouragement of the group. The other group members can count on the same treatment when they assume the leadership role. Communication is encouraging. Support is given freely when needed. Sniping, backbiting, and undercutting power does not serve a purpose and does not detract from the functioning of the group. Imagine!
Hierarchical structures emerged based on the notion that someone needed to assume leadership for the best functioning of the group and to move forward with goals. Someone does need to assume responsibility and move the group forward. However, a Distributed Leadership model is more likely to tap into the strengths of all of the group members, and create a collaborative and supportive context, rather than competitive model. I think we would be wise to follow the Goose Rules of Leadership.