By Kerri Schelling
KSBA Executive Director
Irealized early in my career that effective leadership was the underpinning on which everything else had to be based. While I credit many capable professors and authors for my education over the years I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge my original teacher – the goose.
When I was growing up, it was common to see flocks of geese flying south for the winter. I learned that their unmistakable “V” formation was a telltale sign that they knew two things: Cold weather was coming and, most importantly, the only way to ensure survival on the long journey was to work together. The fact that the geese returned each spring was an obvious testament to the power of teamwork, and their impact on my understanding of leadership has stayed with me to this day.
In 1972, a Baltimore science teacher-turned-administrator, Dr. Robert McNeish, was so intrigued by goose migration behavior that he wrote an article entitled “Lessons from the Geese,” demonstrating the connection between the innate behaviors of the birds, the scientific principles at play and how this knowledge can be applied to leadership. Here are a few things we can learn from our feathered friends:
• Work Together
Those who share a common direction and sense of purpose are more likely to get where they are going faster and more efficiently because they support one another. Just as the flapping of each goose’s wings creates uplift and reduces drag for the birds that follow, school boards that value collaboration and partnerships are more effective than those that go it alone.
• Share the Load
It pays to take turns doing the hard tasks and sharing responsibilities. Flying in a “V” is easier for every goose except the one in front because it faces the most air flow. Eventually, the lead goose will tire and will rotate to the back of the flock, where the resistance is lower and less energy is required, while another bird takes its place. Geese shift positions frequently to ensure every member stays healthy and strong. As with geese, people are interdependent on one another’s skills and capabilities. Every member of a school board adds a different perspective and, over time, changing circumstances, initiatives and projects will require each member to share his or her unique arrangements of gifts, talents or resources to achieve the desired goal.
• Communication is Key
Effective leaders rely on open, honest and continuous communication, just as geese rely on frequent honking during flight. It is thought that they honk to communicate each goose’s position to help them stay together and to provide encouragement to one another. On school boards where information is shared and communication is encouraging (both among members and to those who look to them for leadership), it is easier to stay focused, connected and productive.
Every leader – current or aspiring – needs to remember that while the lead goose and its followers are driven to their destination by instinct, humans must be more intentional. The next time you hear the unmistakable honking overhead, be reminded that leadership does not happen because of a title and it can’t happen in a vacuum. An effective leader must have a clear vision of where the group is going, communicate it so that each can understand, inspire others to join the effort, nurture leadership from all and share the credit when the goal is achieved. Years ago I heard someone say that many times a person doesn’t set out to be a leader – he sets out to make a difference. And that may be one of the best descriptions of school board members there is.