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Leadership in a 'V' Formation

By Trish Olson, Interim Associate Dean — Extension Center for Family Development 

I was in Douglas County in West Central Minnesota this weekend where no roads are straight because of ponds and lakes; therefore, there was much waterfowl flying overhead (duck hunting opener may also have had something to do with that). Geese were constantly honking as they headed to warmer climates. It made me think about the "V" formation and leadership.

Well, I am not the first to think about this. Here's what Robert McNeish, Ph.D., a science teacher from Baltimore, Maryland, had to say about "V" formations and leadership in 1972. I've modified some of the "lessons" with Family Development in mind.

Honk if you wish you were in a warmer climate.

Fact 1: As each goose flaps its wings, it creates an "uplift" for the birds that follow. By flying in a "V" formation, the whole flock adds 71 percent greater flying range than if each bird flew alone.
Lesson: People who share a common direction and sense of community can get where they are going quicker and easier because they are traveling on the thrust of one another.

Fact 2: 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.
Lesson: 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.

Fact 3: When the lead goose tires, it rotates back into the formation and another goose flies to the point position.
Lesson: 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.

Fact 4: The geese flying in formation honk to encourage those in front to keep up their speed.
Lesson: We need to make sure the "honking" in our formation is encouraging. Production is higher in groups with encouraging leaders. The power of encouragement — to stand by your heart, your core values, and support the heart and core values of others — is the quality of leadership we seek.

Fact 5: When a goose gets sick, wounded, or shot down, two geese drop out of formation and follow it down 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.
Lesson: If we have as much sense as geese, we will stand by each other in difficult times as well as when we are strong.

This week, we look at next week's "flocking" at our annual Program Conference, a grant that gives our formation some uplift, and software that can help us keep our flock in formation.
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