Monday, November 21, 2020

Guiding on the Journey

Winter is almost here and the sound of winter, for me, is the sound of geese flying overhead. When I lived in England, we would walk by the shore to see — and most especially, to hear — the tens of thousands of migrating geese that come down from the Arctic to spend their winter in largely snow-free Southern England. The cry of flying geese is the essence of wildness. In many parts of Britain, the yelping of geese migrating by night was thought to be the Yell Hounds, huge white hounds with blood-red ears, paws and tails — and no eyes: The pack of Herne The Hunter, a Celtic God who has vast antlers sprouting from his forehead. If they were on your scent, nothing could save you.

Though I live now in the Arizona desert, I still go at this time of year to see and hear the first flocks of Snow Geese that spend their winter with us, their whiteness dazzling against the deep blue of an Arizona sky. Their cries don't have quite the eerie quality of the Greylags and Barnacle Geese of Northern Europe, but it's close.

Migrating geese fly in vee formations. The leader is always at the very point of the vee, setting the direction for all the rest. Scientists have proved that flying in a vee cuts down on the effort needed by flock members — except the leader. That goose has to work harder than the others, as well as provide a point for the rest to align on. Migration is tough work. Geese fly high, fast and far — many thousand of miles, often over open ocean. And all the time they call to one another, so they can keep in formation, even in the dark.

Leadership is like that. Being the person at the point of the vee is hard work, but without you the flock has neither direction nor formation. As leader, you set the speed as well. If the lead goose flies too fast, the flock will crash down exhausted before it can reach a safe landing place. If it flies too slow, they'll be vulnerable to predators and starvation amongst the frozen lakes they must leave until next spring.

Learn from the geese. Be a leader who can choose the correct tempo. Guide your team on its workplace journey at a pace it can sustain as long as is needed. It won't always be easy. Geese, sensible creatures, swap leaders every hour or so. Humans appoint a leader and expect him or her to carry the burden for years.

Being a leader is being a guide, not an autocrat. Slow Leadership is about finding the correct tempo, neither too fast nor too slow. It's bringing the flock to safe landing places, fit enough to carry on next day. If you fail in that, you fail in everything.

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