Lessons from Geese: Leadership, Followership, Team and Trust

A colleague of mine sent ‘Lessons from Geese’ to me a few days back. I’m not sure where it comes from and I haven’t checked the validity of the facts, but I like it.  I’m always keen to hear an anecdote that explores the concepts of  working with others, leadership and trust. And hey, why not geese?

Each of the five points below resonates with an undertone of trust. In particular, I see the element of trustbuilding as essential to the two main themes: common direction and shared responsibility. Interestingly, these elements are both inputs needed to build trust and outcomes of having built trust.

Common direction is essential in trustbuilding. It’s important that a group share a sense of where it is going. It doesn’t matter if the leader is the one who discovers the direction in which the group should move. In fact, its often someone else in a group who sees the direction first. It’s the leader’s job to hear that voice and then work to bring everyone together to move in that right direction. If you have a clear sense of where you are going, it helps people to trust you and often, it gets them excited about getting there with you. As trust builds, more in the group will claim ownership of this common direction and take it on together as a team.

There is a quote that says, “the best way to know if you can trust someone is to trust them”. In order to build trust with someone, at somepoint we have to let go and give it a shot. Many people respond to the act of being trusted with a willingness to extend trust back to the person who extended it in the first place. In this way, shared responsibility  helps us to build trust. Once a foundation of trust is in place, shared responsibility becomes a natural way of operating within a well-functioning team.

So much for trust falls. How about trust flights!

Lesson from Geese


As each goose flaps its wings it creates “uplift” for the birds that follow. By flying in a “V” formation, the whole flock adds 71% greater flying range than if each bird flew alone.


People who share a common direction and sense of community can get where they are going quicker and easier because they are travelling on the thrust of one another.


When a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of flying alone. It quickly moves back into formation to take advantage of the lifting power of the bird immediately in front of it.


If we have as much sense as a goose we stay in formation with those headed where we want to go. We are willing to accept their help and give our help to others.


When the lead goose tires, it rotates back into formation and another goose flies to the point position.


It pays to take turns doing the hard tasks and sharing leadership. As with geese, people are interdependent on each other’s skills, capabilities and unique arrangements of gifts, talents or resources.


The geese flying in formation honk to encourage those up front to keep up their speed.


We need to make sure our honking is encouraging. In groups where there is encouragement, the production is much greater. The power of encouragement (to stand by one’s heart or core values and encourage the heart and core of others) is the quality of honking we seek.


When a goose gets sick or wounded, two geese drop out of formation and follow it to help and protect it. They stay with it until it dies or is able to fly again. Then, they launch out with another formation or catch up with the flock.


If we have as much sense as geese, we will stand by each other in difficult times as well as when we are strong.