What You Can Learn About Leadership and Succession Planning From a Canada Goose

Jack Prot

Canadian Geese tell an interesting story every time you see them fly in the sky. Do you know why they fly in a V pattern? One goose always appears to be the leader at the front, but in fact that is not true. Geese will take turns leading the flock and facing the brunt of the wind and weather conditions as they break the trail for the others. It is easier to follow, but they all know at some point it is their turn to step up and lead the group. That is the only way they will learn how to do it…to actually be put out front and have the others follow them. If one goose goes down for any reason, they will never do it by themselves. Others will break away from the group to support that bird so he/she can make its way back up and connect with the group again.

I often use this story in my team building retreats, but today I want to talk about it in terms of leadership and succession planning.

At your organization, you are likely thinking about succession planning and who will be the next leaders. What does it take to prepare them for top leadership roles? First, they need to be trained to shift into people management roles. As you know, often leaders emerge at the top after achieving great success in technical roles and then they begin to falter as they have skipped the basics in how to effectively manage people. I see this over and over again in the workshops I teach to leaders at Potential Unlimited on how to coach their staff for results. For top leaders and high potentials, having an executive coach themselves to work one-on-one with them for support is key to development and retention. But, there is another critical step involved in leadership and high potential development. You need to let them fly.

Your people need to be empowered to take the lead and just go for it. There may be times they make mistakes, and end up going down like the geese I mentioned in the story above. But, that is when they need others to come down to where they are and help them get back up so they can lead again.

We are often so afraid of making mistakes that we shy away from opportunities to really do what we can. Or to speak our minds when we sit around that boardroom table. We need to not be afraid to lead, regardless of your title. To step up and help others. And as a leader by title at your organization, you need to allow others their turn to lead on your team.

Just like the goose at the front of the V, eventually the conditions will wear him or her down and if he/she does not allow others to help carry the load, they would end up burning out and suffering the consequences of not allowing others to step up to the plate. This is the only way your people will learn. You are a team. You have eager people, ready to learn. Foster a culture where they take turns leading.

And don’t be afraid yourself to lead. I have worked with a lot of executives who were scared to do what they thought was really the best for the organization because they didn’t want to shake up the group too much. I understand the implications of politics within organizations and sometimes you need to ‘pick your battles,’ but only you can decide how much you can repress your great ideas. And at some point you are actually robbing the company of a fresh perspective by not sharing your thoughts.

I encourage you to think more like a Canada Goose as you look around your office today (just without the feathers!!). Whose turn is it to take the lead? Who can you help prepare to be a better leader? How can you be a better leader? And, how can you learn to let go of some of the responsibilities and step back to take your place a bit further in the V to help the rest of your team really fly to new heights!

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