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Seeking out symbiotic relationships can make you a better leader

symbiotic relationshipsExamples of symbiotic relationships are numerous in nature, and they often offer great parallels to leaders in the world of work.  Consider the relationship between sea turtles and Yellow Tang fish.  The symbiotic magic happens in what is colloquially referred to as “cleaning stations”.

Symbiosis between sea turtles and Yellow Tang fish

If you’ve never seen a turtle “cleaning station”, it is a sight worth seeking out.  I’ve been fortunate to see these several times during my visits to the Hawaiian islands.  Picture it as an underwater carwash where turtles line up as they wait their turn to get a sprucing-up.  In actuality, it’s a small section of coral where turtles swim in, and then, obliging Yellow Tang (and other) fish eat the parasites and algae from the surface of the turtle’s shell and skin. And yes, the turtles really do line up as they wait their turn.

These are called, in nature, symbiotic relationships.  It’s a mutually beneficial arrangement in which both parties gain.  The turtle gets rid of the pesky algae that hinders its swimming ability, and the parasites that could cause disease.  The fish get a convenient meal served on a platter right to their table.

Symbiotic relationships at work

In the world of work, symbiotic relationships are what are often referred to as win-win.  And as a leader, you can gain traction and achieve significant results by seeking out and highlighting symbiotic relationships.  Here are a couple of examples.

If you have a challenging issue that needs to be resolved, assign it to a staff member who you know will value the exposure to senior leadership.  You get the situation capably dealt with, and your staff member builds credibility with several senior managers.  Symbiosis.

If you make your staff available to assist one of your peers who is dealing with sudden and high employee turnover in his department, you’ve not only given your employees an opportunity to build their skills, but you’ve also created goodwill for a future time.  And your fellow manager has a short-term solution to his issues.  Win-win-win.

What other examples have you observed of symbiosis in the workplace?  Please share your experiences by adding your comments below.

This is not the first time I’ve written about symbiotic relationships in nature that are analogous to the workplace.  Here are a couple of previous ones:


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