Let us Observe the Shared Leadership Amongst Flocks of Migrating Snow Geese!

The autumn skies are filled with magnificent flocks of Snow Geese flying above the cities and the countryside. Travelling in groups, these birds brush their wings against the streams to form breaking waves that resemble a high and then low tide, a practice which some observers have compared to a ballet performance.


These wild geese travel a distance of between 4.000 and 8.000 km twice a year to the same destination: the American East Coast during the Winter and the Canadian Arctic in the Summer for the nesting period. A unique subspecies, the Snow Geese have also been mentioned in the historical accounts of Champlain, Jacques-Cartier and the Jesuits.


An observer can hear the Snow Geese approaching by their loud calls even before you see their distinguishing “V” formation in the sky. Trying to catch up with them would be useless as they have been known to travel as fast as 95 km per hour. In this article, I invite you to explore the possible parallels between the Snow Geese, also known as Blue Geese, and the practice of shared leadership!


One might wonder whether the “V” formation is an instinctive or intrinsic traveling strategy for the migrating Snow Geese. The birds exert an upward push by flapping their wings. The “V” formation that involves flying one bird behind the other reduces the resistance factors and subsequently permits them to optimize their flight. In the V-shaped alignment, the head goose covers the bird flying behind it and so on; resulting in the preservation of the latter’s energy. This way, the V formation reduces the required efforts for each wing flap and permits a longer gliding flight.


Henri Weimerskirch, a researcher on the subject, has observed that the Snow Goose can glide for 3 seconds when flying in a formation whereas the gliding flight would only last half a second if it was flying alone! If one of the geese was to leave the group, it would immediately feel a stronger air resistance and would have to put in much more effort to travel the same distance. The solitary goose would strongly benefit from quickly returning to the formation.


The head goose is not always in front of the formation, when it is tired another goose replaces it so that it can rest either at the back of the formation, on the ground or in a marsh. The head goose is always accompanied by others for the recuperation time before continuing the flight. The same goes for any goose that expresses the need to rest during the trip.


The migrating Snow Geese also support each other by emitting loud calls throughout the journey. Because these birds travel both day and night, their constant communications expressed throughout the entire flight can be heard at any moment of the day.


What can be learned about the practice of shared leadership through the behavioral observation of Snow Geese?

    1.There is a collective sense of achieving the mission that is shared by all members of the group.

    During springtime, the geese’s mission consists of nesting in Arctic lands; during the Winter, it consists of bringing the newborns to milder lands. The practice of shared leadership within an organization follows the same guidelines and can be described by asking the following questions: “What are we trying to accomplish as a group? What is the sense of the common mission to which we need to devote our greatest efforts?” A collective sense towards the mission is necessary for its achievement. Without this collective sense, there is the possibility that the efforts made will be devoted to achieve solitary goals and that individuals will be quickly demobilized.


    2.There is a clear expression of the potential added by each individual member’s contribution to the group.

    The collective potential of the Snow Geese is expressed through a reduction in wing flaps and a longer gliding time. The collective potential of a shared leadership group on the other hand, is expressed through results, which can be manifested by an increased overall performance, a better propensity to innovate, or a feeling of pleasure when working as a team. These results are necessary to the practice of shared or collective leadership. Without these results, there is the possibility that every individual will try to find their own comfort zone or potential to perform outside of the group. Every member of the group need to feel the increased collective efficiency that is manifested by the results achieved as a group if they are to work towards the achievement of the common mission. It is the entire group’s duty to establish a feeling of collective confidence.


    3.The replacements between the geese of the “V” formation permit them to rest and to achieve other duties.

    The leader or the figurehead of the group or organization cannot accomplish all the tasks related to the achievement of the mission alone. Sometimes, they can make a decision by themselves; other times however, the members of the group can influence the decisions being made by using their knowledge and expertise related to the subject. There is the need for more collectively produced solutions and innovations to face the increasingly complex challenges of our organizations.


    4.The constant support within the flock motivates every bird to put in its greatest effort and to persevere despite the possible obstacles such as weariness and poor climatic conditions.

    The support within the Snow Geese flocks is manifested in different ways by each of its members: some birds will accompany and stay near the tired geese, others will encourage the group with their calls, and other birds will have the duty to find food. The support within shared leadership teams is also expressed in different ways and every individual has the role of contributing to the inclusion and support of each member when needed.


    5.There are frequent and authentic communications between the geese.

    For the greatest number of workers to be involved in the practice of leadership, the quality of discussions needs to be given importance and care. There should also be an emphasis placed on direct contacts between people as opposed to exchanging information through emails. Despite the fact that organizations today have frequent communications within their teams, they rely too often on virtual communications and not enough on face-to-face discussions to circulate information and knowledge. It is important to remember that the collective mobilization of the greatest number of people through the implementation of shared leadership requires that information be shared, common and clear. These goals can only be achieved by dedicating the necessary time and by establishing authentic relations between members of the team (through phone calls and meetings for example).



The observation of the Snow Geese flocks can teach us about different types of interdependencies within a group, these include: the replacements of the head goose, the constant mutual support and a collective mobilization towards a common destination, a common mission. The shared leadership demonstrated by the Snow Geese is the reason for their accomplishment and for the incredible performance they give twice a year.


Edith Luc, Ph.D.


© 2011, Edith Luc, All Rights Reserved.

Leave a Reply