10 Leadership Lessons from Nature

Nature has a certain “natural “way of unfolding which provides us with insights on how a leader can guide and direct an organization. Nature can be described as systematic, organized and connected. Therefore, looking at these characteristics, we can relate them to some sustainable organizations.

Thus, we can all look to nature to learn some key lessons about leadership:

1. Survival of the Fittest – According to science, that's what happens in the animal kingdom. Only those that have the ability to adapt and survive will live to pass on their genes. It's also called "natural selection.” Organizations that stand the test of time are those that promote growth through continuous learning, welcome challenges and embrace failure for the opportunities it provides. Selection is Key – In this regard, there must be efficient HR practices for selection and training. Talented individuals with varying competencies and skills who can efficiently and effectively achieve the organization’s goals and objectives should be chosen.

2. Have a clear vision – The leadership lesson drawn from the eagle is that of vision. This vision is so sharp to the extent that it can capture objects 5 kilometers from the air. When an eagle sights a prey, it narrows its focus in pursuit until the prey is caught. Have a vision and remain focused no matter what obstacle is faced. Identifying and communicating a clear vision is one of the main functions a business leader can perform. “Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality." - Warren Bennis

3. Well GroundedTrees have extensive root systems. Roots are the foundation of a healthy plant. The condition of a plant’s root system has a profound effect on its overall health. While plants can tolerate a fair amount of damage to their upper parts, they are not nearly so forgiving of damage to their roots. It’s important to have a culture that is solidly embedded in ethical and other principles. if the organization is to survive. Leadership needs to be grounded in deep values that provide valuable guidance especially when there is a dilemma faced in the decision making process.

4. Change and Flexibility – Nothing remains constant. There is a season (winter, spring, summer, autumn) and time for everything. There is calm and then there is storm. Organizations go through different cycles, so always plan and be prepared. It’s imperative to embrace change and take risks. “Sometimes you have to shed your old bark (way of thinking) to grow.” Good leaders also take into consideration the needs of their employees. You can’t just have a system built on bureaucracy. Be flexible so you don’t break when the harsh wind blows. The trees that bend a little to the moderate breeze will later grow to endure the severe wind.

5. Work as a Team to get the job done. You are effective if you work as a team to achieve a goal. Most people believe they already do a lot for the team. However, research shows that most people are self-centric, even if they believe otherwise. Ants focus more on the needs of the colony than their own individual needs. Working for a benefit of self can be detrimental to the overall performance of the team or the entire organization. If any of the ants are not working with the team, it will be noticed. The cohesion and teamwork determines whether the team lives or dies. “ Snowflakes are one of nature s most fragile things, but just look what they can do when they stick together.” Vista M. Kelly.

6. Giving Back – Plants take in carbon dioxide and give back oxygen; trees are always giving back. They give energy, shade, shelter, fruits and seeds. Even after they are dead they still contribute. Always look at the big picture to understand your place in the ecosystem. Learn everything you can about your department, your organization, and the marketplace. “ Our abilities to give and receive are at the core of our capacity to create and experience true prosperity” Shakti Gawain

7. Balance and Well Being – Nature promotes balance. It soothes, heals and restores. Nature emphasizes the importance of Rest, Silence and Solitude. Healthy leaders adopt this philosophy in their lifestyle to ensure longevity. “A healthy outside starts from the inside” - Robert Urich

8. Bearing Fruit- Are you sowing seeds that bear fruit? What fruits are you bearing? “Fruit” means that which originates or comes from something. It is an effect, a result. By your fruits you are known. A good leader is hard at work preparing the soil, planting the seed, weeding, watering, pruning and later reaps a harvest. We produce what we are, after our “kind.” What legacy are you leaving behind in others, your team and the organization? Depending on your leadership style, you will bear lasting fruit, some fruit, diseased fruit or no fruit.

9. Appreciate the little contributions. Leaves even they may seem insignificant, are critical to the life of a tree. Do not take members of your team for granted or show favouritism to those whose roles seem far more important than others. The toes are just as necessary for the whole body to function effectively. Recognition and reward is important for building team morale. Just a simple thank you can indeed make all the difference; they are The Two Most Important words a leader can use.”

10. Patience and Persistence: When it is time for the baby eagles to fly, they are patiently and persistently encouraged. Usually this process takes a couple of months. Good leaders patiently coach and support their team until they are ready to fly on their own. They also provide an environment that empowers and enables others to take on greater responsibility so that they, too, can develop into full-grown leaders (succession planning). Additionally, building a strong company takes time. Sam Walton, Wal-Mart founder is quoted in Good to Great: “Somehow over the years people have gotten the impression that Wal-Mart was…just this great idea that turned into an overnight success. But…it was an outgrowth of everything we’d been doing since (1945)…And like most overnight successes, it was about twenty years in the making.”

Leaders are responsible for achieving outcomes. Great leaders teach. Great leaders help to develop and grow their team. Observing nature can allow us to learn leadership lessons in a different way which can contribute to a healthy organization.