Who is a True Leader?

Looking up to the winter sky, cloudy, grey, not even a peak of the sun’s ray, I couldn’t help but notice the unusual large gathering of Canadian geese. Accustom to seeing Canadian Geese in open fields, swimming in ponds, and even standing idly in parking lots, I was mesmerized by their precision flying formation and their steadfast aim to follow the lead goose. When one flock would fly by, another flock soon followed as if each group had an intended destination.  All the while the constant honking echoed loudly as they flew overhead but eventually muffled as they drifted further away.  Suddenly, my gaze was diverted as one outlier, exited the flock and proceeded to fly the opposite direction.  No other goose followed.  Despite the cold wind blowing relentlessly, I continued to look up not able to comprehend the “why” of what I witnessed.  Questions flooded my mind.  What happened?  Why did the goose stop following and flew independent of the flock? Is this occurrence normal, at least for geese? Was the lead goose aware of a follower’s rebellion?  I didn’t have answers, nor did I suspect to learn why one goose decided to trek the dreary skies on their own without the support of an entire flock.  My curiosity got the best of me and one question, “who was the true leader, the recognized leader”, the goose in front of the flight formation or the goose that reversed direction and soared, kept ruminating long after I witnessed the wintery geese episode.

Truly, being in front of the followers, leading with precise movement, and having everyone follow exactly as expected is a leader’s greatest desire.  Everything works as planned because there are no challenges, no disruption, no uncertainty, and no need to upset the status quo. That is, a leader operates from a place of convenience and comfort. While it is easy to identify a leader who seems to be able to execute a plan without any problems, is this how organizations are transformed, people are empowered, and visions become reality?  On the contrary, being a true leader is hard work requiring bold steps, risk, innovation, adaptability, and the willingness to upset the status quo to chart a new course even when no one else is brave enough to follow, at least not right away.  It’s not easy to stand alone, to take a step in a new direction, yet sometimes, it is the only way to change what is no longer working. 

Despite what you may observe and consider as good leadership, like the goose flying at the tip of flock formation, necessary change is often lacking. To put it differently, a true leader is present when goose poop hits the fan, uncertainty and chaos is everywhere, and the best designed plan fails. It is a time when you stop what you are doing, turn around, and move boldly into the unknown.  Maybe the rebel goose knew something had to change and was willing to take a risk.  Maybe, just maybe, the true leader was flying solo.

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