Great Leaders Are Also Great Followers

In studying leadership, a topic that is often overlooked is followship.

Followship is a willingness to accept direction and guidance from leaders in an organisation. An employee who practices followship recognizes that any effective organisation needs both leaders and followers.

However, I would go one step further: great leaders create space for people on their team/s to “show up”. They help their team contribute leadership to the group by role modelling great followship.

Great followship involves managing up, which involves taking actions to help forward other people’s goals, objectives and priorities.

When you have great followship plus great leadership, a group transforms into a team.

Group Team
1. Everyone thinks about his / her own agenda. 1. All of them think as one unit, the goal of team.
2. People join only for administration. 2. People understand interdependence.
3. Members work independently, sometimes against each other also. 3. Goals are accomplished by mutual support.
4. Members are told what to do. 4. Members contribute knowledge and talents to team objectives.
5. Members distrust each other and do not understand each other’s roles. 5. There is a climate of trust, where people are encouraged to express their ideas.
6. Members are seen as employees. 6. They have a sense of ownership and commitment to the goals.
7. Members may or may not be involved in decision making. 7. Members are involved in decision making.
8. Conformity is more important than results. 8. Positive results are the goals.

The Birds & The Bees for Leaders

As leaders, we can learn a lot from the humble goose. While considered pests in certain situations, geese are intriguing creatures:

  • they have an incredibly strong sense of family and group loyalty
  • they return to their birth place every year, often fly up to 3,000 miles to get there

In 1972 by Dr Robert McNeish of Baltimore wrote something called “Lessons from Geese”. Dr Mcneish, for many years a science teacher before he became involved in school administration, had been intrigued with observing geese for years and first wrote the piece for a sermon he delivered in his church.

As you consider these fascinating facts, think about how you could apply these lessons to incorporate a bit of “goose behavior” into your own leadership style.

Fact 1: The V Formation
As each goose flaps its wings, it creates an uplift for the birds that follow. By flying in V formation, the whole flock adds 71% greater flying range than if each bird flew alone.

Lesson: People who share a common direction and sense of community can get where they are going quicker and easier, because they are traveling on the thrust of one another.

Fact 2: Together Everyone Achieves More
When a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of flying alone. It quickly moves back into formation to take advantage of the lifting power of the bird immediately in front of it.

Lesson: If we have as much sense as a goose, we stay in formation with those headed where we want to go. We are willing to accept their help, and we give our help to others.

Fact 3: Share Taking The Lead
When the lead goose tires, it rotates back into the formation and another goose flies to the point position.

Lesson: It pays to take turns doing the hard tasks and sharing leadership. As with geese, people are interdependent on each other’s skills, capabilities, and unique arrangement of gifts, talents, or resources.

Fact 4: Honk From Behind
The geese flying in formation honk to encourage those in front to keep up their speed.

Lesson: We need to make sure our honking is encouraging. In groups where there is encouragement, the production is greater. The power of encouragement (to stand by one’s heart or core values and encourage the heart and core of others) is the quality of honking we seek.

Fact 5: No One Gets Left Behind
When a goose gets sick, wounded, or shot down, two geese drop out of formation and follow it down to help or protect it. They stay with it until it dies or is able to fly again. Then they launch out with another formation or catch up with the flock.

Lesson: If we have as much sense as geese, we will stand by each other in difficult times as well as when we are strong.

A range of short videos have been created to illustrate these interesting facts and remind us of these lessons.

My favourite version is the following one, with its catchy music:

Do you “honk” encouragement or discouragement?

The next time you are providing your team feedback, take a closer listen to the sound of your “honking”…


YouTube video: Lessons from Geese

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