Geese Leadership

Out driving the other day, I saw something quite wonderful. I never expected to see it in the suburbs and it made me stop the car, to stand and stare. I saw a gaggle of geese flonking (flying and honking) across the sky, in a perfect V formation. I’ve had cause over recent days, to reflect on that sight. How did they all know to head in the same direction and to fly in a V formation, to get more flying range? How did they know to support each other, when one flew out of formation and to honk at each other, to give encouragement along their journey? Perfect leaders all, I thought, regardless of their position in the V.

I’ve been thinking about the concerns some managers have about leadership, management and the differences between the two. Concerns are sometimes held over leadership power (position or the person) and whether, if all staff had leadership qualities, there would there be too many leaders and not enough followers and would anything ever get done?

Managers do question themselves and their abilities over these issues. Common questions are “have I got what ‘it’ takes to be a leader – and what exactly does ‘it’ mean?”; “How can I be a leader when I’m only in a team leader position and responsible for a small number of staff?”; “If I’m in a junior management position, is it a legitimate leadership position?” or “It’s so difficult separating management and leadership – should I?”

There are no ‘right or wrong’ answers to these questions – just endless possibilities. In saying that though, I do believe people in leadership and management positions or people aiming for these positions need a range of personal skills and specific abilities. They also need genuine opportunities to use and develop their skills, in an environment and culture that requires and enables them to be their best. They also need managers (role models) who actively support, coach and encourage them in their endeavours.

I’m not convinced the lines between management and leadership should be so strictly defined. An effective manager needs leadership qualities and skills, and an effective leader needs good management qualities and skills. Instead of the traditional definitions and distinctions, I favour managerial leadership, as defined by Peter Cammock in ‘The Dance of Leadership’. He identifies four key managerial leadership tasks of envisioning, engaging, enacting and creating an organisational context of faith. He defines envisioning as the development of a clear and compelling vision of the future. Engaging, is about communicating the vision and winning the support of the staff. Enacting is about motivating and inspiring staff to help achieve the vision, while creating organisational contexts of faith means creating contexts in which people can develop enough faith in the vision, the organisation, their peers, and their leader, to give of their best.

So, what are the managerial leadership qualities and skills that can be developed and demonstrated, regardless of one’s position in the organisation? They include organisational skills (to organise/manage self and/or others); the ability to see the big picture (not just one’s own patch, but the patch in the context of the whole organisation) and the future (the long term view). The ability to prioritise (achieve results, within deadlines) and problem solve is also important.

A clear sense of direction (have personal goals and a sense of purpose) is essential, as is the ability to connect with others, build teams, network and develop meaningful relationships. Individuals also need to be good communicators, have the ability to delegate and the skills and personal confidence to encourage and support others.

Other important qualities include personal integrity (being honest, keeping promises and confidences, being reliable, working for the good of the organisation); having sound ethics; passion, enthusiasm and interest (in the work, the organisation), and personal motivation.

Determination and courage is also needed – to make difficult decisions, to front up to people and organisational problems. It certainly is needed in order to take responsibility for one’s own decisions, personal development and for achieving results. A positive outlook is valuable too. And at the core of it all, is self – knowing oneself well, knowing the areas needing improvement and the areas of strength; knowing confidence levels and anxiety triggers; knowing what support or guidance is needed to feel comfortable taking control of situations or stepping into something new.

I see leadership and management skills and abilities can be developed and like most skill development, need practise, consistent feedback and ongoing self reflection. Leadership power can be in a named position however it also sits within individuals – their own personal power. The traditional definitions of leadership and management aren’t particularly helpful anymore, as they create artificial boundaries that in practice, don’t exist.

Organisations need leaders throughout their workplace. For me, a ‘leader’ means every individual, regardless of their position and formal title, regardless of how long ‘they’ve had their wings’ or been in the company. And as for wondering what would happen if every person thought of themselves as a leader AND a manager…can you imagine what could be achieved if everyone was focused on the same vision and goals and everyone put their energy and skills into creating the best workplace ever? It’d be magic, pure magic – and the right flight path to achieve a perfect V – for Victorious.


Dwan & Associates, August 2004

First Published NZ Business November 2004.�

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