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7 LIFE LESSONS We Can Learn from Geese!

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A friend of mine was recently sharing with me about the innate wisdom of her chickens.  It reminded me of this wonderful story which I had bought to my business associate’s attention back in 2008. It seems particularly appropriate at this time of disruption and rapid change.

Often the rapid change that arises from inevitable growth can create overwhelm, discomfort and distress. Yet growth or death are the only two options that are offered equally to all living and sentient beings.

In the autumn you will often see geese heading north (or south depending on where you live) for the winter. If you live in a region where they pass by you’ll see them flying along in their well recognisable “V” formation.

You might be interested in knowing what science has discovered about why they fly that way, how these amazing birds cooperate and how they manage to fly such huge distances and overcome incredible odds. How they overcome challenges that would be impossible without utilising these strategies.

I appreciate these lessons because we can adapt what science has revealed from their studies of geese. Learning their strategies offers us life lessons that can help every individual get where and what he or she wants, and in a much faster and easier manner. That’s surely worth some introspection don’t you think?

Why the V Formation?

It has been learned that as each bird flaps its wings, it creates uplift for the bird immediately following. By flying in a ‘V’ formation, the whole flock adds at least a 71 per cent greater flying range than if it each bird flew on its own. This is a big advantage that the individual birds in the flock receive by simply by flying together in this ‘V’ formation, and this simple act offers us seven powerful life lessons.

Imagine a 71 per cent greater output – not in your efforts, but in your results! How would that look in your bank balance? This multiplier effect is exactly reflective of the maximising benefits achieved by participating in a team, it demonstrates the application of the mastermind principle. It exemplifies the extra power gained by those who contribute to each other and share a common direction and a sense of community. They also get where they are going with less effort, quicker and easier.  Just like the geese, a successful completion of the journey for all, requires an absolute commitment to teamwork.

“Don’t be such a Goose” . . . is an old idiom or saying that was intended to mean – “don’t be a fool”, or “don’t be mindless.” While Geese may operate on instinct more than ‘mindfulness’, science has shown they are certainly not foolish in their actions. In fact, they do some pretty smart things to work together and we could all learn a lot from their actions!

If flying in the “V” formation gives each goose a 71 per cent greater flying range, than could be achieved if each bird flew on its own, what could this mean for you, if you committed to working as part of a team?

As with the geese, an individual is able to move forward more easily when they participate in and contribute to a team. For starters, they lift themselves as they lift each other up with encouragement along the way. With a combined unifying commitment to participation and a joint sense of direction everyone achieve more.

Here’s 7 Life Lessons We can Learn from Geese!

Lesson # 1: Share a Common Goal & Direction

As each goose flaps its wings it creates ‘uplift’, an aerodynamics orientation that reduces air friction, for the birds that follow. By flying in a V-formation, the whole flock achieves a 70% greater flying range than if each bird flew alone.

The lesson we can learn here from the geese, is that people who share a common direction and goal can get where they are going quicker and with less effort, because they benefit from the momentum of the group moving with them.

Make sure your team or organisation is aligned and moving towards a common goal. People who share a common direction can get where they are going quicker and easier because they are traveling on the support they receive and the momentum created from one another’s activity.

Lesson # 2: Stay in Formation

Whenever a Goose falls out of formation it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of trying to go through it alone and it quickly gets back into formation and takes advantage of the power of the flock. Flying in a V-formation also increases the flock’s overall visibility, as every goose can see what’s happening in front of them. Increasing visibility also relates to the power of ‘being seen’ as flying in formation too! There’s trememendous power in being seen ‘flying in formation’ as a team!

Having top-down visibility enables leaders to stay connected with the edges of the organisation to make better informed decisions. Bottom-up visibility enables team-members to see the bigger picture, engages them, and empowers them to better align themselves with the organizational objectives.

If we have as much sense as a Goose, we will stay in formation, joining those heading in the direction we want to go. The sense of community emerges from a willingness to work together as a team. Not only is it more efficient – the flock together has better visability of its surroundings AND is more visible as a collective!

Lesson # 3: Have the Humility to Seek Help

As mentioned before, when a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the friction of flying alone. It then quickly adjusts its mistake and moves back into formation to take advantage of the lifting power of the bird immediately in front of it.

The lesson we can learn here is to be humble to admit the challenges we face and to seek help as soon as we get stuck. This humility will enable you, your team, and your company to move faster and achieve more.

If we have the sense of a goose, we will openly and confidently acknowledge when we need help, and gratefully accept the support that is offered . . . and we’ll ‘fly harder’ to stay up with the flock so we can all go longer distances with ease! 

Lesson # 4: Encourage the Leader & Empower others to Lead

When the lead goose in the front gets tired, it rotates back into the formation and allows another goose to take the leadership position, where the ‘drag’ is high.

The lesson here is to empower others to take the lead, at least in some aspect of teamwork. We each have unique skills, capabilities, and gifts to offer. Giving autonomy, trust and a chance to shine, will bring surprising outcomes. Plus it pays to take turns doing the hard tasks as well as keeping up and sharing leadership. Expecting one person or goose to do all the work is unrealistic! With people, as with geese, teams work better when interdependent with one other. As a leader, micro-managing and keeping tight control on all aspects of the team, can burn you out. It will also disengage and demotivate others around you.

Always appreciate and offer support to the leader, it is up to team members who are not leading the way, to give positive support and encouragement to those who are. If all one ever does is complain to or about the leader, when they are already out in front and taking the full force of the ‘drag’. . . one can derail the whole team and disadvantage oneself! If we have as much sense as a goose, we’ll stand by each other, we’ll be loud and lavish with our encouragement, especially in troubling times. When any one of the team is experiencing the inevitable difficulties and buffeting in life, keep on honking to encourage the whole team! 

Lesson # 5: Recognise & Support Each Other

The geese honk to recognise each other and encourage those up front to keep up their momentum and speed. Warning: when the goos leaves the flock, the extra ‘drag’ is immediately noticed by the bird that leaves the V formation. When any goose drops back, it does whatever it can to quickly catch up. It doesn’t ask the flock to slow down, or turn around and give up on going for their destination.

The lesson here is two-fold. First stay connected and give generous praise. Give acknowledgement where it’s deserved, to those out front breaking the barrier and leading the way. In a busy and fast-moving work environment, remembering to provide recognition and encouragement towards each other, including the leaders, is vital to keeps leaders and teams motivated and achieving their goals. Secondly if you’re not in the frontline, realise that if you’re finding the going is getting tough it means you are falling behind. And it’s up to you to catch up!

It’s important that our ‘honking’ be encouraging and uplifting, otherwise its just . . . well. . . honking. Words of support and inspiration help energise everyone, and is especially important to be directed to those team members on the frontline, helping them keep up the pace, in spite of the day-to-day pressures and fatigue. And if the going get’s tough, seek help, speak up. Do whoever it takes to stay up-to-speed and together.

Lesson # 6: Stand by Your ‘Flock’ in Good Times & Bad

When a goose gets sick or wounded, two other geese drop out of formation and follow it down to help and 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.

The lesson here is to stand by each other in difficult times. It’s easy to always be part of winning teams, but when things get difficult and people are facing challenges, that’s when your relevance as a teammate comes to the fore. If the going get’s tough, let others know you need them. Allow them to help and guide you, don’t ‘go it alone’.

If we have the sense of a Goose we will stand by each other when things get rough, and we will willingly take the support and guidance that’s on offer.

Lesson # 7: Stay committed to the team & the core values & purpose.

The geese migration routes don’t vary. They use the same route year after year. Even when the flock members change, the young learn the route from their parents. In the spring they will go back to the spot where they were born.

The lesson to learn here is to stay true to your team’s core values and purpose. Strategies, tactics, and products may change in order for an organization to remain agile, but great teams always stick to their core purpose and values, and preserve them with vigour and pride.

When we drop back, if we have the sense of a goose, we will recover and regroup, and resume formation with the greater team headed in the direction we want to go . . . and we will stick to the plan until we succeed!

This story about geese shows that humanity still have much to learn from our feathered friends. It’s ultimately a series of lessons in what it means to be part of a team, in how we as individuals can benefit from working as a unified part of a team. When we learn to apply these seven lessons and are willing and able to work as a unified team, everyone benefits.

The next time you see a formation of Geese, remember their message, that . . .

“It is indeed a reward, a challenge and a privilege to be a contributing member of a team.’’

I have adapted the Lessons from the Geese from a sermon written in 1972 by Dr. Robert McNeish of Baltimore. Dr. McNeish, for many years a science teacher before he became involved in school administration, had been intrigued when observing the behaviour of geese.. I sincerely hope that McNeish appreciates my version a much as his own.

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