Leadership lessons from… an Ostrich???

A while back I was putting together some material to train on some leadership principles.  I needed a really good example of what not to do – don’t hide from a problem, address it head on.  My first thought was an ostrich sticking its head in the sand.

I had heard the phrase before…  “don’t stick your head in the sand…” or “don’t bury your head in the sand”

So I started to do a little reading.  Why do ostriches do this, anyway?  Is it true that they really assume that if they hide their head, their whole body can’t be seen, as originally thought?

As I read a few different things, here and here, I learned a few lessons that really apply to leaders.  Not what I originally thought, but perhaps even more valuable.

I learned that ostriches demonstrate three distinct behaviors very similar to leaders & managers in the workplace.  We can learn from each of them what not to do as a leader.

First, don’t run away.

The physical make-up of an ostrich is well known – can’t fly, but can run at great speeds.  Well, it turns out that this is their greatest defense – to run away from trouble.  No great surprise, right?

What I learned:  leaders can also run away from problems.  They will physically go out of their way to avoid people, meetings, places or situations that might present a sort of “danger”.  This is a mistake.

Leaders don’t run from things!  Confront reality, even though difficult.

Second, don’t lie down and pretend you won’t be noticed.

Did you know that an ostrich will, in fact, lay down and hold perfectly still as a defense?  It’s true.  They hope to not be noticed and to avoid any trouble by just holding perfectly still.  Ostriches have excellent sight and hearing; in fact, they can oftenostrich-head-sand sense predators coming long before they actually arrive.  They commonly lay down flat to “hide” from the danger they sense coming.

What I learned: leaders often have a sense of pending danger, or a sense when something is wrong.  It is a mistake to just lay down hoping it just goes away!  Seems risky for the ostrich to just lay there, hoping that a predator won’t notice, don’t you think?  Likewise, it’s even more risky for a leader to figuratively “hold still” and hope no one notices, or no bad happens.

Leaders should not just lay down and hope trouble passes.  

Take an active role!  Face it head on!

Finally, don’t bury your head in the sand.  Really.  🙂

Back to the myth of burying your head in the sand.  This was the most interesting breakthrough I had…

Ostriches aren’t actually burying their head in the sand at all.  They are actually caring for their egg, which they had deposited there for safety and protection.  They bury the egg just deep enough so it is safe, then they stick their head in the sand to turn the egg periodically.

Fascinating!  So an ostrich is getting a bad rap all these years for a really wise and caring practice?  Yep.

What I learned: sometimes leaders take steps that are wise and caring too.  But there can be an altogether different perception.  It goes a level deeper than just perception, though.  Leaders should communicate their reasons and intentions!  Share why you are doing something, to ensure others (especially your team) will not misunderstand or misinterpret.  This is where #trust comes into play, in a big way…

I never knew an ostrich could teach me so much about what not to do!

Now to find an animal that exhibits some good leadership behaviors… what do you think?  Comment below!

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