In the past, I’ve been inspired to blog about Leadership lessons from a mountain and Leadership lessons from a sea turtle, and many of you were motivated enough to add to these lists. Today (stirred by a recent weekend visit to the Calgary Zoo), I thought I’d begin a list of what leadership lessons a penguin can offer.
The penguin is a bird that does not fly. With feathers and a beak, it looks like a bird. And in most behavioural aspects, it acts like a bird. Except of course in this one very significant characteristic … that it cannot fly. But what the penguin lacks in flight power it makes up in aquatic grace. In the study of bird evolution, paleontologists have determined that many eons ago, the ancient predecessor to today’s modern penguin could fly. But over millions of years, penguins’ wings evolved into fins as they adapted to marine life in the Antarctic Ocean. And if you’ve ever watched penguins swim, you know that they perform with as much elegance underwater as their avian relatives do in the sky.
The successful existence of the penguin offers at least two apt metaphors for leaders. One … that anyone can adapt. In order to survive, live and thrive, the penguin adjusted its behaviour, and over time, its physical attributes changed as well. So too is it possible for people. We just have to be prepared to seek out alternative choices and be willing to shift our behaviour.
Two …it’s okay to be different. C’mon, there isn’t anything more unconventional than a bird that cannot fly! Yet the penguin has carved out a very successful niche for itself in the world. And so too can it be true for people. As leaders, we sometimes fall into the trap of seeking out conformity in our staff. But perhaps we should be seeking out employees who are unusual and unconventional, not only because they offer different perspectives but because they take on roles or fulfill functions that most of us may not.
So what other leadership lessons can we learn from penguins? Please add your comments below.