Leadership is For the Birds (Part One)

I’m always intrigued at how much we can learn from the instincts of animals. So often, humans can discover life-changing lessons simply by watching creatures in nature and emulating them. Somehow, fish, plants and animals know how to function without ruining the environment or igniting a world war. It may be true that humans are, indeed, the only “wild” animal.

Over the next few days, I plan to do a three part series on the “fowl” lessons we learn about leadership from birds. If you care about leading effectively, there are some fundamental practices we often fail to implement that birds like eagles, geese, owls and ostriches demonstrate. Let’s begin with the eagle.

What We Can Learn From Eagles

photo credit: Todd Ryburn via photopin cc

photo credit: Todd Ryburn via photopin cc

One of the most vivid illustrations of leading and parenting well comes from the eagle. For centuries, the eagle has symbolized strong leadership (especially in America), but we often fail to recognize how they do it. It actually begins with the mother eagle and her young. Four thousand years ago, Moses described God’s leadership of His people as an eagle leading her baby eaglets. He says that God is:

“Like an eagle, that stirs up its nest and hovers over its young, that spreads its wings to catch them and carries them on its pinions . . . ” (Deuteronomy 32:11)

Let’s break down this process and see what we can learn from these instincts:

From Shelter to Showing to Shoving to Shouldering . . .

1. Nurturing Stage – Shelter. In this early stage, the mother eagle creates the nest for her babies. With deep care, she plucks and provides her own feathers as lining. She wants to send the message to her young that they are cared for and secure.

2. Disturbance Stage – Painful. As the eaglets mature a bit, the mother eagle removes the nest’s inner lining. She knows it must become uncomfortable, or they’ll stay forever. She sends the message that it’s time to grow up . . . not just rest in the nest.

3. Motivation Stage – Persistent. At this point, the mother eagle flaps her wings to push the eaglets out of the nest. She incessantly stirs them to make them want to fly. Her message: It’s time to get out of the nest and do what you’re built to do.

4. Protection Stage – Covering. As the baby eaglets jump out of the nest, they quickly realize they can’t fly yet. Mother flies under the eaglets to catch them as they fall. She will do this until they learn. Her message: You can do this; it is in you to fly.

5. Success Stage – Confidence. After several attempts, the eaglets fly on their own. Mother has done both the nurturing thing and the painful thing so her young can do what they’re intended to do: soar to new heights and have their own babies.

My friend Randy Hain is one of the most intentional fathers I know. He has two sons, and the oldest, Alex, has autism. This special need has made parenting more costly for Randy and his wife. But he knows his job is to prepare his boys for the world that awaits them as adults. Recently, Randy brought his sons to our annual donor event for The Growing Leaders Foundation. It was a banquet where everyone sat at tables, ate, mingled and listened to a presentation. Randy introduced Alex to me before the evening began. The young boy shook my hand and greeted me. I could tell Randy had worked with him on etiquette and social skills. Later, Randy told me something I will never forget: “I know these kinds of evenings can be hard for Alex. Autism makes it difficult for him to sit still, listen and not call attention to himself. But I want to prepare him for what’s ahead, so I look for events like this to be learning times. While they’re painful, learning these lessons now is far less painful than the consequences of not learning them until later.”

Thanks for saying that, Randy. You are spot on.


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Leadership is For the Birds (Part One)