Practical tips and insights to help research administrators grow personally and professionally.

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Leadership Lessons from Geese

Yeah, spring is here!  One of my favorite spring highlights each year here in the northeast is seeing the geese flying overhead as they return from their winter homes down south. I, like many people, have always been fascinated by geese, their migratory habits, and various flying patterns. But did you know that we can learn a lot about leadership from geese? It’s true!

Many years ago, I was given a copy of “Lessons from Geese” as part of an organizational leadership program I was enrolled in. To this day, it is still my favorite leadership analogy. The story was written in 1972 by Dr. Robert McNeish, a science teacher from Baltimore, Maryland and has since been used as a study lesson by many leadership institutes, consultants, organizations, and corporations.

We all know how important leadership and teamwork are in today’s organizations. As research administrators, we can use the five principles presented in the “Lessons from Geese” story as inspiration to practice good leadership and teamwork skills as we all struggle to find ways to do more and more with fewer and fewer resources.

Fact 1: As each goose flaps its wings it creates an “uplift” for the birds that follow. By flying in a “V” formation, the whole flock adds 71% greater flying range than if each bird flew alone.

Lesson: People who share a common direction and sense of community can get where they are going quicker and easier because they are traveling on the thrust of one another.

Fact 2: When a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of flying alone. It quickly moves back into formation to take advantage of the lifting power of the bird immediately in front of it.

Lesson: If we have as much sense as a goose we stay in formation with those headed where we want to go. We are willing to accept their help and give our help to others.

Fact 3: When the lead goose tires, it rotates back into the formation and another goose flies to the point position.

Lesson: It pays to take turns doing the hard tasks and sharing leadership. As with geese, people are interdependent on each other’s skills, capabilities and unique arrangements of gifts, talents or resources.

Fact 4: The geese flying in formation honk to encourage those up front to keep up their speed.

Lesson: We need to make sure honking is encouraging. In groups where there is encouragement the production is much greater. The power of encouragement (to stand by one’s heart or core values and encourage the heart and core of others) is the quality of honking we seek.

Fact 5: When a goose gets sick, wounded, or shot down, two geese drop out of formation and follow it down to help and protect it. They stay with it until it dies or is able to fly again. Then, they launch out with another formation or catch up with the flock.

Lesson: If we have as much sense as geese, we will stand by each other in difficult times as well as when we are strong.

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