Leadership Lessons From Birds

Leadership Lessons From Birds

Recently, prompted by robins arriving on our front lawn, I was thinking about the folklore and sayings that are related to birds. We talk about feathering our nests and taking a bird’s eye view. Then there are sayings from our grandparents that remain with us–sayings like,”The early bird gets the worm,” or, “Birds of a feather stick together.”

Sayings like these sound trite, but  the following are some take-away lessons that might be thought provoking when it comes to birds, women and leadership.

•Songbirds don’t sit on a tree branch comparing themselves to other songbirds or wondering if they are good enough to sing out loud. They don’t second guess their ability. If they are a songbird, they simply sing their own song without apology.

•Birds don’t spend one day worrying about the next. They complete their daily work tasks, and when the day is over, they go to their nests or trees to roost. Morning comes soon enough when they will have to start all over again.

•When there is a difficult task, birds work as a team. A group of small birds can attack and force a larger bird, such as a crow, out of their claimed territory. Likewise, A flock of migrating geese rotate in and out of the leadership position at the point of the V formation. As one goose gets tired, another takes its place.

•Another important lesson is that birds are adaptable to their environments and to the weather.  They change when change is necessary. They seek shelter as needed. They migrate when the
time is right. Their survival depends on their adaptability.

•The males of most bird species are more brilliantly colored than the female birds. According to nature experts, despite being more visible than the females, male birds aren’t smarter or more successful. In fact, the major purpose of their coloring is so that they can attract the attention of the females.

So what can this bird behavior  teach women in the workplace?

•First, stop comparing yourself to others or undervaluing what you contribute. There will always be someone who performs better or is smarter or has more experience than you. Do the best job you can and be proud of your contributions.

•Second, finish each workday and be done with it. We all know that work will expand to fill every moment allotted to it, and few women are paid to be available 24/7. When you are home with your family, be with them totally. Stop worrying about what you didn’t get done at work. It will still be on your desk when you arrive in the morning. Turn off your cell phone and your laptop (how many real emergencies do you actually have in the evening anyway?). Stop multitasking. Appreciate and enjoy the time you spend with family and friends. A work-life balance is a gift you give yourself.
•Third, learn to be a good team player. Many people prefer to work alone, yet working in a group can be the most productive way to meet a challenge or to get a big job done. Help others when you can and graciously accept their help when it is offered. Be a consistent and respected colleague. You don’t always have to be first or be the leader in every effort.

•Many of us resist change. We like routine and predictability. As a result, we may be slow to adapt to necessary change in the workplace or in their professional realm. Often the warning signs are there — cutbacks are coming, or your unit is being transferred to a different facility, or your boss is leaving — but they are disregarded.   Despite the clues, you may continue to bury your head in the sand like an ostrich when what is needed is the view from the eagle’s perch. Be attentive to small changes. They often precede and can help you prepare for bigger ones.

•Men still dominate the majority of leadership positions in our corporations and organizations. They do remain more visible. Women are, however, catching up and are no longer content to be relegated to background roles. Instead women recognize and want to use their leadership skills and capabilities. Interestingly, new bird research, looking at nearly 1000 different species, suggests that  male birds may be growing less distinct from their female counterpoints, and, that in some cases, males have become duller and females brighter. This might be one area where birds have something to learn from women today.

Photo Credit: Joaquim Coelho

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