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Leadership lessons learned from nature

3 min read


A few years ago, I had the privilege of being one of the few who actually watched a hummingbird weave her nest out of lichen and spider webs, nurture the eggs, feed the very tiny babies and teach them to fly.

It was an extraordinary experience captured from the window of my office. I spent more time observing this wonderful spectacle than I should have, captivated at the tiny, fierce mother and the babies as they went out on their own. In my mind’s eye, I won’t forget what I saw. It was fascinating and humbling to watch the persistence of this tiny bird.

I also remember some of the lessons the mother hummingbird imparted that are relevant to leading others.

  • Flexible and stable: The hummingbird nest required specific material that was expertly woven to allow it the flexibility and stability required to keep growing babies inside (the nest expanded to hold the babies in as they grew) and to weather storms (built under an umbrella of leaves and firmly attached to a thin branch). Likewise, a leader has to pay attention to building and leading an organization that is flexible enough to “go with the flow” when needed and stable enough to withstand the storms that come their way.
  • Ferocious and protective: I’ve never seen something that was so tiny and yet so fierce as that mother hummingbird. If another bird came within her sight as she sat on the nest, she went right for it, despite her obvious size disadvantage. That bird was able to successfully assure that her brood was protected. Similarly, leaders must be ferocious in pursuing the goals of the team while protecting them from those who might thwart their collective goals.
  • Patient and persistent: You’ve heard the term “pushing them out the nest”? Not true in the case of this mama. When it was time for the youngsters to fledge, they were patiently but persistently encouraged. They were awkward at first as they climbed out of the nest and on to the branches of the tree; when they weren’t quite ready to jump, she patiently sat beside them until they were. As a leader, your job is to patiently encourage and coach your team, and stand beside them when they are ready to fly on their own.
  • Willing to let go: It must have taken a lot of courage for that mother hummer to let the babies fly away. But she did. She knew they were ready. This demonstrated trust that they were fully capable, as in the natural order of things. Leaders need to trust that their followers are ready to fly by summing up the courage to allow them to “go it alone.” I’m pretty sure the mother hummingbird didn’t micromanage the babies after they left the nest!

Observing nature can allow you to learn leadership lessons in a different way. Nature has a certain natural way of unfolding that can provide you with ideas about how you can lead at your best.