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Jan-03-2010 23:42printcomments

Leading Like Geese

The Management Moments series by Doug Dickerson is a weekly column designed to bring inspiration to those in the workplace and beyond.

Flying geese

(CHARLESTON, S.C.) - At this time of the year it’s not uncommon to see geese flying across the evening sky.

One thing I’ve discovered over the years is that leadership lessons can be found all around us if we are paying attention. Yogi Berra once mused, “You can learn a lot by watching.”

Tom Worsham in “Are you a Goose” shares a fascinating story about geese that reflects a lot on leadership principles.

He writes, “When you see geese heading south for the winter flying along in a “V” formation, you might be interested in knowing that science has discovered why they fly that way. Research has revealed that as each bird flaps its wings, it creates an uplift for the bird immediately behind it. By flying in a “V” formation, the whole flock adds at least 71 percent greater flying range than if each bird flew on its own.

Whenever a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of trying to go it alone. It quickly gets back into formation to take advantage of the lifting power of the bird immediately in front. When the lead goose gets tired, he rotates back in the “V” and another goose flies the point.

The geese honk from behind to encourage those up front to keep up their speed. And finally, when a goose gets sick, or is wounded by gunfire and falls out, two other geese fall out of formation and follow it down to help and protect it. They stay with the goose until it is either able to fly again or dead, and then they launch out on their own or with another formation to catch up with their group. Whoever was the first to call another person a “silly goose” didn’t know enough about geese.”

In as much as the story of the geese is not new, neither are the leadership lessons we learn from them. These are simple reminders that will help keep you on course. Consider these three observations.

Geese teach us that we can accomplish more when we work as a team. Individual talent, as impressive as it may be, is multiplied when we join forces with others.

Greg Werner observed, “The life of a high achiever is one of give and receive. We receive that which we are first willing to give out. Therefore, to grow and achieve we must first be willing to help others grow and achieve, and, in doing so, the light of reciprocal achievement will brightly shine upon us.”

People who share a common vision, mission, and purpose, like the geese, attain that goal faster and more efficiently when they work together. Just as geese generate thrust as they travel together, your teams’ thrust will allow you to accomplish more when you stay together.

Geese teach us the power of unity. Solidarity of mission and purpose gives strength to the goals of the organization and make attaining them more realistic and achievable. An African proverb wisely states, “When spider webs unite they can tie up a lion.”

Flying together gives lift to the team. Unity in the workplace is defined not just by the slaps on the back when it succeeds, but in lifting up a teammate's hand when she is down. A unified team wants everyone to succeed.

Geese teach us to share the load. Each team member possesses different skills and abilities to accomplish the goals of the team. On any given project, you may be the point man to bring the team to victory. On another project someone else may have the right talents and skills to accomplish the mission.

John Maxwell said, “People come together as teams, peers work together, and they make progress because they want the best idea to win." The formula for success is the same across the board; the team succeeds when we let the best idea win out.

Don’t allow insecurity to cripple the productivity of your organization and its progress. Set office politics aside and rally around the best idea and the best team member for the project. A strong leader gladly shares the lead on projects and is a model team player. When the team shares the load its work is more productive and the rewards much greater.

2010 has taken flight. Take a look at your organization and its formation. Are you headed in the right direction?

Doug Dickerson is the former editor of the Berkeley Independent newspaper in South Carolina and is currently the director of university relations at Charleston Southern University. Doug’s writing has been recognized by the South Carolina Press Association; having won awards for enterprise reporting, series of articles, and for humor column writing. Doug’s passion for communicating leadership principles and personal development is crystallized through his Management Moment column and leadership columns he writes. Read more of Doug’s columns on his blog at

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