A Backyard Miracle
For the past four weeks my wife Janet and I have watched a mother duck sitting on a nest of eggs by our pool. From watching her, I’ve derived three lessons for leaders.
Her infinite patience was rewarded this past Sunday by the birth of seven little ducklings.
This process brought into sharp focus the risks, heartbreaks and joys that nature serves up daily. The miracle of life that unfolded in our back yard also provides three timeless lessons for leaders.
3 Timeless Lessons for Leaders
1. Develop a fertile environment.
The male and female ducks mate for life, and these two life partners rely on their instincts to select a spot where the female can build a nest that offers protection from harsh weather and concealment from predators. Today’s leaders work intentionally to create a collaborative culture where new ideas and careers flourish. As a result, of this culture, profits also flourish. Talented employees have more choices than ever to decide where they will work. Culture counts.
Ask: Is our organization a magnet for top talent?
2. Create a sense of urgency.
Once the eggs have hatched, the first 24 hours can be the most perilous time for the ducklings. The mother gets her brood out of the nest, into the water and begins exposing them to their new world. She pushes, coaxes and nurtures. She doesn’t care how they get going, she is concerned only with getting them out of the comfort of the nest and into the new surroundings. Large companies and small businesses alike recognize the positive impact produced by a sense of urgency in the workplace. Among the more than 5,000 executives completing my accountability assessment over the past five years, 76 percent “strongly agreed” or “agreed” that decisions are acted on “in a timely manner,” and 79 percent “strongly agreed” or “agreed” that “we recognize our mistakes and move quickly to address problems.” In business as in life, there is a need for speed.
Ask: How quickly do we convert decisions into action? Are we spending too much time planning, researching, and debating, or can we accelerate our implementation?
3. Carry out a natural plan.
The female duck by our pool laid 11 eggs. A predator snatched one egg. Three other eggs never hatched. Of the seven ducklings, it was evident which ones were stronger, more adventurous and most likely to survive the first two dangerous weeks of their young lives. Business can take plenty of helpful clues from nature. After leaders set objectives, select strategies and engage the team, it all comes down to execution. Leaders who tolerate under-performance and cannot create a culture where accountability matters will struggle. Leaders who are too focused on the past and neglect the future will flounder. Organizations unwilling to evolve are doomed to die.
Ask: What one thing will we change in the next 60 days that isn’t delivering the expected results or that customers no longer value? What’s the impact of not changing?
A Manifesto for Business
When Charles Darwin’s The Origin of the Species was first published on November 24, 1859, it caused an immediate sensation because of the controversial theories it introduced about evolution and the implications for Creation.
Beyond its historical, scientific and even religious significance, the lasting effect of Darwin’s work—subtitled “By Means of Natural Selection or The Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life”—is its imprint on and relevance to business. The lessons for leaders derived from his work will survive for centuries.
“It may metaphorically be said,” Darwin wrote, “that natural selection is daily and hourly scrutinizing, throughout the world, the slightest variations; rejecting those that are bad, preserving and adding up all that are good; silently and insensibly working, whenever and wherever opportunity offers [Darwin’s emphasis], at the improvement of each organic being in relation to its organic and inorganic conditions of life. We see nothing of these slow changes in progress, until the hand of time has marked the lapse of ages, and then so imperfect is our view into past geological ages, that we see only that the forms of life are now different from what they formerly were.”
Darwin’s theories of “natural selection” and “survival of the fittest” are manifestos for today’s business leaders.
From the pre-Cambrian swamps Darwin studied to the battlefields of the world to a business climate of change, confusion and uncertainty, the maxims are the same. Stay alive, adapt and execute your new plan. Your responsibility as the leader of an organization caught up in changing times is to keep your organization alive through honest means, and to keep things moving forward.
If you remember nothing else, remember Darwin’s view of success: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent; it is the one that is most adaptable to change.”