Leadership is For the Birds (Part Three)

This blog is part three of a series on what we can learn about leadership from birds. I know it sounds funny, butI believe there are fundamental leadership lessons humans can learn from nature. Specifically, there are instincts in various types of birds that teach us what kind of predisposition we must cultivate in our lives as leaders. In part one, we examined the eagle and how it develops its young. First, we studied eagles. Yesterday, we looked at geese. Today, my question for you is: Are you an owl or an ostrich?

Owls and Ostriches

As I travel and meet thousands of educators, coaches, parents and youth workers each year, I find they usually fit into one of two camps:

  1. The Owl
  2. The Ostrich
photo credit: catlovers via photopin cc

photo credit: catlovers via photopin cc

These two birds have become symbols of two different approaches to life. The ostrich has come to represent folly. Even in the Scriptures (Job 29:17), it is said of the ostrich that God “has deprived her of wisdom.” Over the years, people have believed that the ostrich buries its head in the sand when it’s afraid or wants to hide. While this is actually a myth, we’ve come to compare it to this tendency in humans. Woodrow Wilson compared American foreign policy to the bird: “America cannot be an ostrich with its head in the sand.” H. G. Wells wrote, “Every time Europe looks across the Atlantic to see the American eagle, it observes the rear end of an ostrich.”

photo credit: Tambako the Jaguar via photopin cc

photo credit: Tambako the Jaguar via photopin cc

In contrast, the owl symbolizes a completely different approach to life. The owl is most alert at night when danger lurks. It can rotate its head 360 degrees to see any and all movement occurring. Because it’s always on watch, it has developed acute hearing and keen eyesight in the dark. Owls are nocturnal and are known for their distinct calls to other birds and species. Most of all, owls have become symbols of wisdom and nobility. With that in mind, I’m merely posing a question:

Which are you: an owl or an ostrich?

Do you have a tendency to hide from bad news or dangerous trends, not wanting to face reality? Do you “bury your head in the sand,” wanting to escape the necessary changes we must make to prepare kids for the future? Do you hide behind noise and clutter? Do you get lost in routines, hoping to merely survive each school year?

Or do you do your best work in the dark? Are you alert and observing what’s happening all around you in culture and among students today? Do you possess the wisdom to address dangerous patterns in kids, helping them to rise above addictive behavior, risk aversion, self-absorption and entitlement?

Do you run to the roar . . . or from the roar?

As I’ve been exposed to leaders in all walks of life, I’ve found that we’re either an ostrich or an owl. We choose to play defense or offense when it comes to preparing our kids for the world that awaits them. I am not a pessimist, but I do believe our culture has done a number on today’s generation of kids. We live in dark times, where they finish school unprepared to achieve success in our global economy.

As cliché as this may sound, we must be owls, standing watch in our culture:

  1. Stay alert in dark and dangerous times. Keep current on cultural stats.
  2. Observe patterns and diagnose trends in your kids’ behaviors.
  3. Respond wisely as you address negative patterns or shortcomings.
  4. Signal your colleagues, communicating what needs to be done.

Owls are widely believed to have the best night vision in the animal kingdom. May that be said of us as we lead our kids into adulthood.


Looking to develop leaders next school year? Check out

Habitudes: Images That Form Leadership Habits and Attitudes


Leadership is For the Birds (Part Three)