As regular readers of the blog know, I am continually inspired by the lessons in leadership that come to us from the animal kingdom. In the past, I’ve written about bald eagles, sea otters, goldfish, and penguins, among many others. Today’s leadership lessons come to us from ants!
Ants don’t admit defeat
Have you ever watched an ant carry what appears to be a gargantuan load? Science indicates that ants can actually carry ten to fifteen times their body weight. And they do – repeatedly – in order to provide for themselves and their nestmates. Which got me thinking … if ants aren’t daunted by the sheer magnitude of what they sometimes have to carry, is there a lesson there for us as leaders?
In the workplace, we are often faced with what seem to be insurmountable obstacles in our leadership roles – looming deadlines, challenging employees, missed opportunities, apparently unattainable targets – which could, if we let them, cause us to give up and admit defeat. Continue reading →
I am continually amazed by the insightful leadership lessons that can be learned from the animal kingdom; in the past I’ve written about sea otters, goldfish, long-nosed bats, Canada geese, and penguins. Recently, I had the opportunity to have a close-up interaction with an American bald eagle at a bird rescue sanctuary (I took this photo on the right), and not surprisingly, there were leadership lessons to be had here as well. Here are two interesting parallels between bald eagles and exceptional leaders.
The ability to stay high AND come down low
Eagles tend to spend most of their time in elevated locations. When they are hunting, they soar high in the sky. When they are resting, they look for the loftiest spot they can find in trees, craggy rocks, or even rooftops. They can stay at higher altitudes because they have excellent vision. Continue reading →
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. Continue reading →
In September 2012, during a visit to Mt. McKinley in Alaska, I got into a whimsical discussion with a local guide about what leadership advice a mountain might offer, if it could speak. Just recently, during some “up close and personal” swimming time with green sea turtles in Hawai’i, I somehow ended up in a similar conversation –what leadership advice would sea turtles give us, if they could talk? What leadership lessons can we learn from turtles? Here’s my list: Continue reading →
Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to visit Denali National Park in Alaska and get up-close-and-personal with Mt. McKinley, the highest peak in North America. Now, spectacular mountains are nothing new to me; after all I make my home in Calgary, Alberta, Canada which is nestled in the foot of the Canadian Rockies. But Mt. McKinley was unique not only in its height, but also because of the way it stands out amongst the other topography around it. And given that Mt. McKinley’s peak is shrouded in cloud at least two-thirds of the time, we were especially fortunate to visit on a day when the skies were clear and the view fantastic.
Last week I blogged about my unfortunate bicycling mishap on the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California – Are you leading from the front or the rear? – in which I realized that leadership wasn’t just about going ahead and guiding the way, but also about staying back and supporting those who needed help. It got a conversation started, and Ron Umbsaar (see the Comments under the blog post) told me about how white-water and river canoeing groups always have not only a “lead” boat but also a “sweep” boat. The sweep is another experienced person whose role is to bring up the rear and make sure that the team stays together. Which got me thinking …
Shouldn’t every leader have a sweep – another experienced team member who assists the leader by following behind the group – to help team members who falter, and to get them back on track? I think this person should ideally be a senior experienced team member who is known and respected by the others. But perhaps most importantly, I think the leader needs to identify this person to others as a resource, a second-in-command, or a “senior”, so they know where to go when they need help. What do you think? Good idea or not?
A couple of weeks ago, I bicycled across the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California. It was a unique experience, marred only by a minor mishap that occurred partway during the trip. The busy pathway was neatly divided down the middle with a line separating the lane for foot-traffic from that for wheeled-traffic, a system that was working quite well … until a young boy darted out into the bicycle lane. Not a veteran cyclist, I panicked, hit my brakes, lost my balance, and promptly tumbled over and hit my head on a concrete abutment. When I fell, those who were ahead of me had no awareness of what had just happened behind them. In fact, it wasn’t until about five minutes later when the rest of my group stopped for a photo opportunity that they realized I was missing. Indeed, the family of the young child who triggered the accident were also completely oblivious as they continued on with their morning stroll. It was the three city workers who were walking behind me who stopped and helped me stand, then sat me down and brought me water, finally getting me up and on my way once again. In the good news department, there was no major harm done, not even to my head (courtesy of my riding helmet). But unfortunately, for the next two weeks, scrapes and bruises on my knees and shins were a sore reminder of my not-so-excellent adventure.
It wasn’t till several days later (when the aches began to subside and the bruises started to fade) that I reflected back on this incident and got to thinking about what role a leader should play on the team. By its very definition, you would expect a leader to lead, to be out in front, to blaze the trail, to be the shining beacon lighting the way to your destination. But the problem with being out front is that you can easily miss what’s happening in the rear. For me, the true leaders in this situation were those who were behind me, there to pick me up and dust me off when I fell, and get me back on the road to finish my journey.
Where are you leading from – the front or the rear? What about others around you – have they made this important distinction? Tell us what you think.
Kit Grant is “The Director of Comfort Zone Infiltration”! He works with organizations to help create environments that foster personal responsibility and accountability. He’s also my professional colleague and good friend, and he agreed to guest-author today’s blog post. Thank you, Kit!
People learn primarily by following — in other words, they copy the behavior they see being demonstrated by others. If you have children, you know that’s true as demonstrated every time your spouse points out something your child is doing that’s just like you! Employees aren’t that much different. If the person “in charge” behaves with little concern towards customers, why would the staff do anything different? Staff don’t want to get in trouble with customers but they’ll do whatever they can to avoid getting into trouble with the boss. The best way to do that is to behave just like the boss! Chances are your best memories of good leaders you worked for were those whose behavior made you feel most at ease. The real problem is staff will replicate whatever behavior they see, be it good or bad.
If you come in late to work and leave early, you teach staff to get there just before you and leave just after you do. If you’re enthusiastic and positive, you definitely increase the likelihood your people will exhibit the same traits. In working with companies to improve customer service delivery, I point out service is not something you do — it’s something you are. All good external service starts with good internal service. In fact, previous postings on this blog have pointed out that people do not leave organizations, they leave bad managers.
One of the best leadership principles to adopt is to consistently demonstrate the behavior you want in others.
Well, you can’t argue with this! If you are a leader, then you are a role model, good or bad, for your employees. What’s been your experience? What good and bad examples have you observed of this phenomenon? Please share.
ONCE UPON A TIME, there was a manager who worked in a credit card customer call centre. He thought he was a great leader, and often told his colleagues and staff that he came by his strong leadership skills naturally. But his staff would not have concurred. In fact, a few of his employees described him as the “worst manager I have worked for, ever!”
Aah … the adventures of world travel! Last week was an “interesting” week for me on the travel front! I was speaking at a client event in the UK from Monday to Wednesday and was scheduled to return to Canada on Thursday. I awoke Thursday morning to a series of email notes advising me that my flight from London to Calgary was delayed and potentially cancelled due to “volcanic activity”. After I confirmed that this wasn’t a typo (after all, volcanic activity is not what one expects to encounter in London!), I rapidly started considering alternatives. Unfortunately, there weren’t many – it was expected that within hours, all north and west European airspace would be closed – so I moved towards trying to secure accommodation for the next few days. I had pretty much resigned myself to the fact that I was going to be stranded in London for at least a couple of days (I had no inkling at that point that a couple of days was a gross underestimation given how extensive and far-reaching this issue has become), but unbeknownst to me, the airline travel gods were smiling down upon me, and I was destined to become one VERY lucky girl. I got out of London by the skin of my teeth! I was on the THIRD-LAST plane to depart London before Heathrow airport shut down at noon that day. Yup, the very airport that shut down on Thursday at noon AND has not reopened since! I say lucky, but the truth is that luck was only a small fraction of my ultimate success. In fact, it was incredible effort and hard work of over half-a-dozen individuals that got me out of London on Thursday and back on the North American continent almost 18 hours later! Here’s my story. Continue reading →