Leadership is for the Birds: 5 Lessons in Leadership

By Marinelle Reynolds, LCSW

Every year, as the cold winter temperatures move in, thousands of geese take flight towards warmer weather.  They quickly form the familiar v-shaped pattern in the sky. One lead goose takes the front and the rest follow closely behind in two lines. If we think of leadership as the ability to influence and take a group of people from where they are to someplace better, as Tom Worsham (1992) points out, we can learn a lot from geese.

1.    They work together towards a common goal

When geese fly in the v-formation, the lead bird’s job is not to just tell the other birds where to fly.

The lead bird helps to reduce air drag so that the birds behind can fly for longer distances without expending more energy. In our teams, families, and communities our role as a leader is not just to guide people, but to help others succeed.

When we support our people and work towards a common goal we can go a lot farther, faster.

2.    It’s not about a title

Bill Gates said:“As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others.”

For a lot of people, we think that being a leader means we have to have a title. We defer and relegate leadership to the title of Director, Manager, CEO, etc.  But if we look at how influential leaders like John Maxwell define leadership, we see that, “Leadership is influence nothing more, nothing less”.

We see that leadership is less about the title and more about what someone does. If we observe how geese designate the leader, we see that each bird is actually given a turn to lead the formation. For geese, it’s not a question of their position in the pecking order. Instead, it’s a matter of which bird has the ability in that moment to offer the support and guidance needed.

3. There is constant feedback

If you’ve ever been around geese, you know they are loud. They are constantly honking and squawking. They are always giving feedback. They are telling the goose ahead of them to hurry up or they are encouraging the goose behind to catch up. Feedback and encouragement are a vital part of team’s performance. We need feedback to get an accurate picture of how we’re doing. We need leaders to be brave enough to hold us accountable. We need leadership that is compassionate enough to remind us about the value we bring. When we don’t have feedback generally we will default to either making up negative stories about our performance. Or we will think we are doing fabulously when we are clearly failing. Feedback is necessary for growth in all areas of our life.

4.    They share the workload

While geese are flying in the v-formation, it’s constantly shifting and changing. You see that the birds in the flock take turns as lead. As one bird moves to the front, they replace the lead bird. That bird then moves to the back where they can get some rest. The flock evenly distributes the workload so that the bulk of the work is not rested on any one bird’s shoulders. When leading it’s important that there’s an understanding that the work will be shared. We acknowledge a sense of interconnectivity. A place where no one person is more important than another. It allows us to reach our destination together.


5.    They have each other’s back

Geese have a “no bird left behind” mentality. If one bird gets sick or can’t fly, two birds actually fall out of formation to stay with the sick bird. They stay with their bird buddy until they’re ready to fly again… together. Innovation takes a brave spirit. As Theodore Roosevelt once said “there is no effort without error and shortcomings”.

If we’re going to do something great in this world, we will fall. As leaders, we need to create safe environments where we can fail forward, learn from our mistakes and rise again. We need to create environments where we have each other’s backs and we encourage each other to get back up and fly.

Leadership is not just for the birds.  We are all leaders. As clinicians, we are charged with leading individuals, couples, and families towards healing. As parents, we are responsible for leading our families towards fulfilling their potential. As humans, we are called to lead our communities towards understanding.  Leadership is not about the title. It’s about being invested, seeing the potential in others and empowering those around you to rise.


Marinelle Reynolds has been featured in NBC News, Bustle and Elite Daily. Over the last 18 years she’s been a clinician and leader in the non-profit, military and corporate worlds. And has been a speaker for organizations like University of California, Berkeley and the United States Air Force.

She is an entrepreneur, Licensed Clinical Social Worker and unshakable optimist who specializes in helping high achievers let go of anxiety and perfectionism. She owns an online private practice that provides services in California, Georgia & Texas.

You can learn more about this military spouse and connect with her here https://eremedycounseling.com/