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Leadership Lessons From Birds: Are You A Seagull Or A Goose?

Being a leader is a skill that anyone can learn—that is, a learned or acquired ability. It takes desire. It takes extended practice. Above all, it takes action.

Whether you are a teacher, parent, mentor, coach, manager, director, politician, or CEO, anytime you are in a position to influence the thinking, behavior, or development of people to accomplish a goal in their personal or professional lives, you are taking on the role of a leader. You have a responsibility, even a moral obligation to see to it that you are developing that skill.

The world has a need for better leaders in our communities, businesses, organizations, and homes. If we look to the animal kingdom for models of leadership, we find that we can learn from the behavior of many species, in particular birds. The lessons are there for the taking if we pay attention. Let’s examine seagulls and geese and compare them.

Seagull Management

Seagulls. They’re everywhere, and they are not as innocent as they look. They’re noisy, aggressive, and operate from the point of view of “me” and “mine”. When it comes to dinner, they are opportunistic and will grab food out of the mouth of another seagull. When they are in a flock with other gulls, they become selfish, vicious competitors that never want to share with each other.

Perhaps this sounds familiar: At the first sign of trouble, your boss swoops in, overreacts, sends mass emails, and attempts to play the hero. They’re quick to point fingers—often in front of others—but rarely, if ever, account for their own mistakes. They exit the situation and expect that someone else will clean up the mess.

There’s a term for this management style: a seagull manager, and it is considered the number 1 style of management in America.

Does your seagull fly in when a screw-up happens, makes a lot of noise, then flies somewhere else? A seagull manager operates from a lack of communication, as they rarely interact with their employees unless there’s some kind of fire to put out, then they will squawk and squabble and leave some fresh droppings on their teams, making a bad situation worse.

This happens a lot with new employees, who are not given enough direction and then are reprimanded when they make a mistake.

Not an appealing concept, first coined in Ken Blanchard’s “The One Minute Manager”. You might be working for a seagull with very developed swooping skills right now. Or, worse, perhaps you’ve become one yourself.

The Wisdom of Geese: A Better Way to Lead

Geese, on the other hand, work cooperatively and are able to achieve more through collaboration. Geese can actually fly farther and more quickly when they fly together. That’s the beauty of teamwork.

When one goose becomes ill or is injured, and pulls back from the formation, two other geese will fall out of formation and remain with the weakened goose. They will protect the sick goose from predators until it is able to fly again or dies.

These birds are a perfect example of how teamwork can have a profound and powerful effect on any form of business endeavor.

Leadership is about empowering others, inspiring them to get on board as you work to achieve a shared vision. A leader with a goose mindset is someone who understands that progress is only achieved when their team flies in formation, and part of their job is to teach others to be leaders. Did you know that geese regularly change leadership?

The goose leader knows that its role is to make it easier for the rest of the flock to reach their destination. And it knows to rest when it tires out from taking the wind, the rain, the storm—it drops back in the formation and allows another goose to lead the way.

In the workplace, people can and should do the same thing—that is, cooperate and take turns doing the hard tasks, instead of fighting with their fellow team members.

When people work in cooperation, they reach their goals quicker and easier. This contrast between geese and seagull management styles usually is the difference between success and failure.

Take a Lesson from the Birds

Leaders: schedule some time to meet with your teams on a regular basis, make sure you know what your people are working on, identify everyone’s development level for their specific tasks, create a safe space for employees to ask for help when needed, interact with your staff, care about them.

Leaders are the vessels of a company’s culture and must work diligently, through training and executive coaching programs, to ensure they hold the knowledge and skills that motivate employees to perform, feel satisfied, and love their jobs.

Is your team flying toward your goal? Being united in purpose and committed to the shared vision ensures you will make it to your destination.

The wrong management style de-motivates employees kill productivity, and trains employees to disengage or leave. People may join companies, but they will leave bosses.

No one influences an employee’s morale and productivity more than his or her supervisor. Don’t let seagull management hold you back. Bring your flock together and see how far you can fly.

 If you are currently searching for a new executive position that would be a better fit, be sure to visit our job portal.

By Fernando Ortiz-Barbachano

By Fernando Ortiz-Barbachano

President and CEO of Barbachano International (BIP),

The Human Capital Solutions leader in Mexico, Latin America, and the USA, offering high-impact executive search, executive coaching, and outplacement.

At Barbachano International, we understand the importance of recruiting and the return on investment that top talent can deliver for you. With 27 years in the industry, we know firsthand how imperative it is for an organization to have the right people to achieve its business objectives. We help you avoid painful hiring mistakes and reduce turnover by identifying top performers for your team that result in long-term success.


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