Just like any other day I sit down to watch television with my 6 year old daughter and she is fascinated by cartoons – Doremon being her favourite. As like any other good parent I insist she watches discovery channel, animal planet or the news channels. Whenever I have been successful and have watched animal planet with her I walk away more enlightened than before and amazed at the wealth of knowledge that nature along with animals treasures.
Most of my recent assignments have required for me to learn leadership competencies and my experience so far has been the best leadership lessons are what we can learn from real life examples. These examples are not necessarily restricted to humans but go way beyond and I believe every aspect of nature has something to teach.
In this article I look at the commonly discussed leadership competencies and some examples where I have seen these being exhibited.
Let’s start with an example closer home, have you ever tried dropping a bread crumb and observed what happens, well I have! Whenever I have dropped food I always used to be amazed at the speed at which ants collect around and finally dissipate it. So once I actually dropped a bread crumb and out of curiosity observed what happens. What I found was mostly it starts with a couple of ants first visiting and turning back and eventually forming a long infinite line of ants. When I sat down to think this reminded me of Vision that leaders need to set. The first few ants were those who set a purpose which in this case was to find food and show the way. This got me more curious and I disrupted the line of ants and all the ants went helter-skelter. I tried to look up for information on what could be the cause and understood that ants leave a scent and this is how they find their way. The leading ants in this case found a purpose and created a trail a significant quality that leaders should possess.
Moving on to the wild it’s not a surprise that the Wildebeest Migration sometimes referred as the “The great Wildebeest Migration” is considered as one of the natural wonders of the world. While there is an encyclopaedia of knowledge hidden in this phenomenon it’s an eye opener in terms of leadership lessons. As a part of this over a million animals migrate from the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania to the greener pastures of the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya during July through to October in search of food. While there has been no evidence of natural leadership to this migration it seems the larger group is formed out of smaller herds each with dominant members. What is exemplary to see even in this is there are a set of animals who are at the front and are the first to test the treacherous Mara River in the Maasai Mara where crocodiles will prey on them. This is a great example of risk taking and applicable to leaders along with being a great exhibit for leading from the front despite dangers.
One of the most fascinating animals I find are the lions, not only are they magnanimous in their looks but their behaviour has many traits which leaders could pick up. One of the organisational behaviour of lions is they live in “prides” mostly consisting of 1-2 males, 5-6 females and their cubs. In most of these prides some individual lions lead and defend against intruders. It’s interesting to see how lions hunt in groups, this ability to work together as a team enhances the hunting capability of lions and can hunt large prey and dramatically increases the success rate of hunting. Needless to say a great example of how leaders can enable collaboration and teamwork.
Some of the example cited above are already great examples of what we could learn about leadership behaviour from nature a couple of them are my personal favourite. First and foremost to the best of my knowledge there is no promotion or appointment process for leaders in animals, all those that you see in any group are “emergent leaders”, again a great quality of leadership is to emerge as a leader irrespective of designation or role, while it is evident leadership behaviour can be exhibited at all levels emergent leaders have a greater acceptance and credibility enhancing their chance of success when they eventually have designated leadership positions. The other favourite of mine is how the leaders amongst animals lead from the front during adversity and many of them lose their lives – a striking example of how leaders can lead from the front, walk the talk and take accountability.
These experiences set me thinking several times what is it that leaders amongst human being in organisation are expected to do beyond natural instinct exhibited in nature and that is when I felt most examples in the wild are associated with situational and tactical leadership. Human leaders are expected to stand out in visionary and strategic leadership behaviour. We have many leaders who have had a vision for the future can predict and plan years ahead and set a strategy for the organisation. In closing while there are great lessons to be learnt from nature there are significant learning’s from leaders who have set vision for their organisations and transformed the world in one way or another.