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leading naturally

May 6, 2010

Birds flying at sunset

Last weekend we took a rare “holiday” away. Sitting by the river I watched a group of pelicans flying in a V formation. I think that, like in a cycling peloton, the one who is out in front – “the leader” regularly changes. That position is the one that meets the most wind resistance and as a result is the most tiring.

Giving everyone a go out in front seems to make it better for everyone.

I was watching my girls swimming in a sheltered harbour. There were other, younger, children already in the water. When my two walked confidently past them out into the deeper water the two younger children seemed to instinctively follow and headed out after them.

Having someone who is prepared to go ahead into unknown areas seems to embolden others to follow…

Until their parents called to them (from the safety of the beach) and told them not only not to go any further but to come back to the much shallower water – one threatening to remove the child from the water entirely if she strayed again.

Now I know that sometimes we, like the younger kids, need to be protected from ourselves lest we do ourselves harm, but I wonder how many of us wait for someone else to show the way forward before we are prepared to take the next step?

How many of us call out to those who are starting to follow a leader that we are not and call them back or threaten dire consequences?

How many of us refuse to take up the position at the front of the formation for a time, offering what we have in the service of the rest of the group?

I know I have done all of those things.

We are like the penguins I saw on TV that same night. They enter the water to go fishing in groups in the hope that someone else will be eaten should there be something dangerous lurking there.

Problem is that somebody has to lead the way or we all get nowhere and nobody eats.


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4 Comments leave one →
  1. May 9, 2010 11:31 pm

    Hi Paul, great post. I certainly do agree with your thoughts and especially on giving everyone a go. What I have come to notice is that most people refuse front positions because they don’t want to be held responsible should things go wrong. I think it all boils down to the blame culture that we have allowed to grow within our organisations. People are scared to bear the rant of a failed project.

    I think the way forward is for senior leaders to inform especially those taking the front position for the first time that it is a learning curve,they will not always get it right and that we work as a team not individually.

  2. May 16, 2010 9:04 am

    Sorry for the delay in approving your comment Peter – not sure why but it got caught in the spam and I only just checked it today.

    It turned out to be great timing though as Earl de Blonville replied to my thoughts on his book “The Seventh Journey” and makes a similar point. As the expedition leader he found himself being held responsible for the weather!

    I am writing an article at the moment for an engineering audience and in it I ask the question that you have posed. Where are the opportunities for people to make mistakes, reflect on those mistakes and then learn from them. We don’t take our first step and then run, we don’t speak our first word and then engage in a political debate, we don’t read our first word and then pick up “War and Peace”. Why is it that as we progress through life we forget the lessons of our youth? We rarely get it right the and without the support of our team (be it our parents, carers, teachers, friends or colleagues) we can achieve very little.


    Peter is a UK based business consultant focusing on strategic planning, performance management, risk management and financial strategy. His blog “Mastering Strategic Financial Management” makes for interesting reading and can be found at

  3. Claire permalink
    May 25, 2010 10:34 pm

    Hi Paul,
    As I was trying to get to sleep tonight, I was thinking over this post, and Peter’s comments in response. I was also congratulating myself on my first game of golf back after knee surgery 6 months ago and it ocurred to me that we all need to play more golf. Is it any wonder that a game where three people scrutinise your every move and make comment about where you went wrong or how you can improve after each attempt is generally only adopted by those with considerable life experience? Or alternatively by those senior leaders that you and Peter speak of? I know personally that is was no small step in my mind to have the confidence to hit the worst ball in the group in front of three people I highly respect, who are my superiors both in years and experience, and whose opinions mean a great deal to me. It was daunting, nerve racking and after such a long break, it was tempting not to try again. I’m glad I did. I had a great game. My tee offs are improving, I can chip well but my putting leaves a lot to be desired. Having played that game though, I know now, as I always did, that I have three great mentors who will support me in my endeavour to play a better game, and improve theirs in the process.
    I’m not ready to fly at the front of the pack but with the right mentoring, when I get there, I know I’ll play as well, and with my own take, as the others who came before me and walked with me to achieve the game I want to play!

  4. May 26, 2010 9:02 pm

    Thanks Claire. I think golf is a great metaphor for life and your experiences certainly bear that out. I think that being prepared to hit the worst ball in front of those who are more skilled than you means you are already flying at the front of the pack. Most other people would not be prepared to do that and for that reason alone you are a leader. Work on the putting though – it is the thing people practice least but that often adds the most strokes to their game!

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