One of our family’s favourite activities is to visit a local pond and feed the ducks.

We have a few areas near us where we can do this and our kids have enjoyed these outings since they were very young.

As I’ve observed these beautiful creatures, there are a few key leadership principles that I think we can learn from them.

So here are three important leadership lessons that I’ve observed from ducks:

Water off a duck’s back – Ducks are renowned for their waterproof feathers and it’s amazing to watch them when they get splashed.  The water just forms beads on their back and rolls off back into the pond.

Leaders need to have a similar level of resilience.  They can’t afford to allow problems, especially trivial ones, to weigh them down and distract them from their plan or vision.

Smooth on top, paddling below – When you watch ducks, it looks as though they are smoothly gliding along the surface of the water with very little effort.  However, a closer inspection reveals that they are paddling hard under the water to get where they need to go.

I’ve seen a lot of leaders over the years who make a big deal out of how busy and stressed they are.  They huff and puff and sigh a lot, wearing their wornout demeanour as a bizarre badge of honour.  It’s almost as if they feel they need to look flustered to show that they’re working hard.

The best leaders are more like ducks.  Sure, they’re still working hard, but they make it look easy, with warm smiles and time to spare for people.  They display sprezzatura and bring a sense of calmness and reassurance to those around them.  They are less likely to explode in rage and their people feel comfortable in their presence.

Head down, bum up – If a duck wants to survive, it knows that it has to put its head down below the surface of the water to reach its food sources.

Similarly, leaders still need to put in the grunt work if they’re going to be successful.  You can’t delegate all of the ugly tasks to others, you still have to make tough decisions yourself.  You still need to put in the hours and work as hard (or harder) than you expect your people to work.

Ducklings always follow someone – When a duckling first comes out of its egg, it invariably follows the first thing it sees and remains attached to it.  It’s called imprinting and it doesn’t matter if the first thing it sees is its real mother, a person or even a dog, it will continue to follow it around.

Similarly, in the absence of real leadership, people will find someone else to follow.  They need a clear vision, to know where they fit in to delivering that vision and to have consistent messages delivered to them or they will easily become distracted by something else.   If you don’t want them to be influenced by the biggest complainer in your organisation, then you need to be providing the leadership that they need to remain focused.

These are the 4 simple leadership principles that I’ve learned from ducks.

Do you have any others to add to the list?

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