Leadership Lessons Learned From Nature

Leaders are responsible for achieving outcomes.  Great leaders teach. Great leaders help to grow their team.  Great leaders create something much bigger than themselves.  All businesses, organizations and professional practices need to consider who their leaders are and what are their desired outcomes.  For healthcare, it can be as simple as a solo physician practice offering quality healthcare.  It can also be as complex as a large teaching health centre focusing on developing their key management people and considering multiple outcomes, such as patient care, infection control and cost containment.

Regardless of what field you’re in, or at what level you serve at, we can all look to nature to learn some key lessons about leadership.  Nature has a certain natural way of unfolding that can provide us with ideas about how we can be at our best when we are leaders.  Mary Jo Asmus wrote about leadership lessons that she learned from watching a hummingbird build her nest and raise her family.  Ana Gonzales (PhD in Organizational Behaviour), wrote about leadership after observing stands of Sequoia trees in Yosemite National Park.  Here are some of the lessons that they shared.

Stay both flexible and stable:  Hummingbird nests require specific material to allow them to be both flexible and stabile, as the nests expand as the babies grow.  And they need to be strong enough to weather storms.  Likewise, a leader has to pay attention to building and leading an organization that is flexible enough to “go with the flow” when needed and stable enough to withstand the storms that come their way.

Be both ferocious and protective:  The mother hummingbird drove away all others birds, in spite of her obvious size disadvantage, assuring her brood was protected. Similarly, leaders must be ferocious in pursuing the goals of the team while protecting them from those who might thwart their collective goals.

Practice patience and persistence: When it was time for the youngsters to fledge, they were patiently but persistently encouraged.  Good leaders patiently encourage and coach their team, and stand beside them when they are ready to fly on their own.

Be willing to let go:   The mother hummingbird knew they were the fledglings were ready to fly, and let them go. This demonstrated trust that they were fully capable, as in the natural order of things. Leaders need to trust that their followers are ready to “fly” by summing up the courage to allow them to “go it alone.”  Mother hummingbirds don’t micromanage the babies after they’ve left the nest!

Deep roots:  The tree roots were strong and deep. As long as the roots were healthy, the tree was healthy.  Leadership needs to be grounded in deep values and ethics if the organization is to survive.

Keep it simple:  As long as a tree has what it needs (water, sun, food, space), it gets the business of growing and living done. They don’t seem to need long elaborate meetings and plans. If you give the people what they need, they will get it done without much fuss.

Have a strong core:  The trunk of a tree (its core) is what connects the leafy crown with its roots. It’s the backbone that sustains the branches and leaves.   It’s also the conduit for nutrients to move to the branches and leaves.   The leadership of an organization needs to be that conduit of life. Leaders should facilitate the interchange of information between all the parts of the organization. Leaders and followers need each other for the growth and health of the organization.

Be flexible:  The living structure of trees combines both strength and flexibility. Because trees bend with the wind, instead of trying to resist it, they can survive storms without snapping. Leaders don’t need to get bent out of shape about turbulences of conflict or change. Work with the energy, instead of against it, and it will make the leader and the organization stronger.

Change, and survive:  They deal with four seasons, drought, overcrowding, global warming, people, bugs, animals, and other challenges.  Good businesses do this too (well, maybe not bugs and animals, but you get the point).  Companies that don’t do well with change, don’t stay around too long. Good leadership involves everybody in surviving and thriving.

Work as a team:  Every part of a tree does their job well. The work of all individual parts make a whole tree healthy and keeps it growing. When every individual in an organization is working on what they can do best, and doing their job well, all kind of good things happen.  Successful companies consist of groups of people working together to make something happen. Trying to “shine” as a lone leader is risky and often leads to failure.  Leaving people out of your plans is not a good idea. There is strength in numbers. And in the variety of a “forest” every different person has a place and a job that will serve the wellbeing of all.

Be welcoming and non-critical:  Trees welcome all creatures to rest under it’s shade. Trees do not cry, complain or worry.  Likewise, an effective leader does not lament mistakes of subordinates because they know that negative experiences can be used to make the organization stronger. They welcome feedback and innovation knowing that, even what seems messy, can be healthy.

Give back:  By taking in their leafs CO2 and giving back oxygen, trees are always contributing to maintaining health. The leadership of an organization is there to serve and to give; not to take and hoard.  Even if your own plans “died,” many times they can serve as the seed for another idea that will work even better.

In conclusion…

Be grounded like a tree, yet stand tall to look out as a visionary. Be strong like a hummingbird’s nest, yet be flexible enough to grow and change. Be willing to stand alone if needed, but collaborate with those around you to become stronger together.   Welcome challenges and people, growing stronger with the different experiences. Above all, serve others and give the best of yourself. Your leadership will then contribute to a healthy organization.

For more information or to see the articles in their entirety, please visit: http://smartblogs.com/leadership/2012/07/11/leadership-lessons-learned-nature/



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