Leadership Lessons Of The Osprey

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Living on the Back Bay provides a daily show of natural marvels. One I enjoy most is watching the fish jump into the air and birds dive into the water.

Quite the paradox.

The fish lives in the water but in order to capture the choice reward (bug) floating on the top, it ventures into another atmosphere. Likewise the bird, built to soar in the air, will venture into the atmosphere of water to capture its choice reward (fish).

Each is wired genetically to briefly leave its natural environment for another – one that, if there long enough, is deadly.

Yet, they do it.

My favorite bird to watch is the Osprey. While this bird generally doesn’t completely submerse in water for very long, as many water fowl do, it is the only carnivorous raptor that eats almost exclusively fish. We have a few ospreys that migrate here each year and always put on quite a show, especially when there are new fledglings.

The learning curve for the fledglings is steep. Over the [first few] months they will not only have to master flying, but catching fish before launching themselves off on migrations of thousands of miles. Some of the young will get the hang of it quicker than others. Some won’t really get the hang of it at all, and those birds won’t be around long. (ospreyworld.com)

So what do I learn from ospreys?

1. Leaders see things differently.

If you have ever tried to spear a fish from above the water you understand what an optical illusion size and location can be. Just holding a stick in the water, one can see how the image bends. One advantage that Ospreys have is their brain’s capacity to adjust their eyesight to accommodate the light refraction – that phenomenon that makes something under water appear larger and off center. This natural ability is perfected through trial-and-error. While they have a unique ability to see things differently, that ability is fine-tuned through experience. Like the osprey, leaders learn that when looking into a hostile environment, things are not always as they may seem to others. They learn to overcome the challenge of a distorted version of reality.

2. Leaders can’t stay in their comfort zone.

The choice reward lies outside the comfort zone. Both the fish and birds are genetically predisposed to breach atmospheric barriers, but they learn to get better at it over time. Leaders, like Ospreys, simply are not content with what lies within their comfort zone. They would sooner starve than settle for that which is within easy grasp. They are wired differently. They are wired for challenge. They are wired to grasp the choice reward that lies outside of their comfort zone.

Perhaps ospreys are among my favorite birds because they remind me so much of the great leaders I know. They see things differently than others; and they would die if they couldn’t leave their comfort zone.

The Best Team-Building Exercise? SUCCESS

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If you could get all the people in an organization rowing in the same direction, you could dominate any industry, in any market, against any competition, at any time. – Patrick Lencioni

Recently I was explaining my views on team-building to a group. They didn’t get the explanation they were looking for, so I gave them a personal illustration.

Several years ago, I took over a small team that had been without leadership for several months. The key employee, a veteran administrative assistant, suggested to me when I arrived that the group take a cooking class together, or perhaps steal away for an all-day harbor cruise.

“We need some team building,” she claimed.

I agreed, but suggested something else.

“You know what I think really builds a team, really draws everyone together and ignites their passion?”

“An office party?”

“No, achievement. Nothing builds a team quite like success.”

A team cannot achieve success without hard work; and people will only work hard if they believe they are working toward an important goal.

What the team needs is a strong mission, challenging objectives, and people who are committed to both.

Team activities work best with a team. When you only have a group of people, most activities just don’t quite work the same. And, by the way, I’m not convinced some team building exercises are all that effective, especially with high functioning teams.

So when do team building exercises work? When you have:

  1. A strong mission that is the loud and universally understood rally cry of your organization.
  2. Challenging goals that stretch individuals and demand their reliance on others.
  3. Members who are fiercely committed to the mission and goals.

Team building exercises work best when
they enhance a team’s ability to fulfill its mission.

A team can always learn how to be more effective and efficient. For example, my wife recently told me about her work-team cooking experience, and why it was an effective team exercise.

It was several years ago in her first management position at HP. She, along with the rest of the management team, was invited to the boss’s house for an all-day strategic planning session – followed by a dinner that was to be prepared by the team.

After a long day of hard work, the team was expected to plan, prepare, and ultimately eat the meal together. She explained how they, even after working so well together on work-related issues, learned even more about one another while cooking. They had fun, laughed, and playfully teased each other (yep, a small food fight in the boss’ kitchen – only at HP). At the end of the evening, the meal was over and they knew more than ever that they were a team, a really strong team.

The cooking experience enhanced their commitment to the team and its mission. It helped them learn more about, and appreciate, one another in ways not possible within the typical work environment. They now knew each other differently, better, more personally. They were more relational, understanding, and more trusting.

Clearly, this team experience enhanced the team members’ commitment to one another and ultimately the HP way.

Good leaders build a team with a strong mission, hard work, and dedicated people. They enhance the team with experiences that create new awareness, appreciation, and understanding among their team members.

Coming together is a beginning.
Keeping together is progress.
Working together is success.
– Henry Ford