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Learning from Geese

I grew up in the wide-open country of western Canada, and one of the sure signs that winter was coming were large flocks of Canada geese flying overhead. As they travel south to get away from the cold, they fly in giant V-shaped formations. One bird is in front as the leader with as many as 100 geese lined up close behind. Their honking is so loud we would often run out of the house to watch them fly overhead.

Canada geese are very family oriented. When they find a mate they stay together for life. They spend the summer as far north as the Canadian arctic but fly south, often to Mexico to find warm weather during the winter. Scientists have tracked Canada geese flying more that 650 miles in one day. However, they are only able to do this by working together as a team.

Leadership Lessons

There are 5 leadership lessons we can learn from these interesting birds:

Lesson 1 – Fly Together

It is a beautiful sight to see a group of Canada geese flying together in perfect V-shaped formation. Research has shown that as each goose flaps its wings it creates a strong uplift for birds that follow behind. Further studies have found that by flying together the whole flock is able to fly 71% further than if each bird flew alone.

When a group of people has a common focus and sense of purpose, they create trust and help each other achieve goals. They move forward on each other’s energy. Sharing ideas they get where they want to go faster and easier. Teamwork is powerful. If you surround yourself with excellent people you are far more likely to succeed than if you attempt to go at it alone.

Lesson 2 – Stay in Formation

When Canada geese fly, they usually stay in formation. But when one goose falls out of the line it struggles. It will immediately move back into formation to take advantage of the lifting power of the bird in front.

A team that works together with shared knowledge and skill can expect outstanding performance. Be willing to accept help and give your expertise to others. Once you have established a good team, stay together and work together. Sure, you might sometimes become annoyed with each another. But one person working alone cannot create the tremendous power of synergy.

Lesson 3 – Share Responsibilities

While flying in V-shaped formation the lead bird eventually becomes tired and moves towards the back of the line. Another goose takes its place as it rests and recharges its batteries.

Likewise, it is important for us to share the load among team members. Take turns doing difficult tasks and share leadership responsibilities. We need to respect and protect each other's unique skills, capabilities, talents and resources. As with geese, we depend on each other.

Lesson 4 – Honk

While it is not always possible to hear from the ground, Canada geese are noisy when they fly in V-shaped formation. They are constantly honking. There are several theories for this. One is that geese honk to encourage each other to keep up speed. Another theory is that honking lets geese in front know where those behind are. I have seen Shanghai taxi drivers do this many times. A gentle honk, honk lets other drivers or bicycle riders know they are close behind.

No matter the reason for goose honking, we should always communicate with one another and offer encouragement as needed. Hearing from others is motivating and production is much greater in teams where words of encouragement are often shared. We should also have ways to communicate when something is not right.

Lesson 5 – Leave no Goose Behind

Whenever a goose is injured or sick and unable to continue, two other geese fly out of formation to stay with it. They follow the bird down to the ground and help protect their comrade until it is able to fly or dies.

Like these geese, we should stand by each other in difficult times. The best teams are made of people who genuinely care for each other and are willing to help whenever they can.

Team Loyalty

Dr. Albert Schweitzer, winner of the 1952 Nobel Peace Prize, told the story of a flock of wild geese that settled to rest on a pond. A gardener captured one of the birds and clipped its wings.

When the rested geese started their flight, this bird tried frantically to lift itself into the air. The others saw its struggles and flew in circles to offer encouragement. But it was no use.

Despite the strong urge to continue their journey, the entire flock settled back on the pond and waited. For days they waited until the damaged feathers on their fellow goose had grown enough for it to fly.

The gardener, observing the loyalty of the geese was deeply moved. The compassion shown by a flock of birds changed his heart. Rather than restricting the wild goose, he gladly watched as the flock finally took off together and resumed its long flight.

The Power of Teamwork

Lessons from geese show the importance of teamwork and the powerful effect it can have. Imagine the positive impact doctors and health care workers could have across the great country of China if we all teamed up together with the same goal—to help fellow citizens understand the deadly danger of smoking.

The power and efficiency of teamwork would be incredible. In just a few years I believe we could change the culture of smoking. Rather than young boys growing up feeling like they must smoke to be successful and fit into society, they would know from a young age that the poison of cigarettes kills and unnecessarily cuts lives short.

If you would like to be part of a team that makes a huge difference, share our Leadership Club with a friend or colleague and invite them to join. Then do what you can to change the culture of smoking by telling the truth about cigarettes.

By Marlin Gimbel
Leadership Club Program Director

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