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Be A Penguin

By May 3, 2013 2 Comments

Leadership is one of the most talked about subjects out there, and for good reason. There are many different styles of leadership that are effective, so it’s hard to say that in order to be a leader one must only follow a certain path. There are countless books, blogs, and articles written on the topic, but I want to share with you a story I came across last year. It is a story about penguins.  This may seem like an unlikely source of inspiration, but if we follow the lessons from this story, we can become better leaders.

Here in St. Louis our zoo has a pretty cool penguin house. It’s one of my son’s favorite places to go when we visit the zoo. After reading the story I’m going to share this week, I’ve observed the penguins more closely during the visits. Have you ever really watched penguins? If you have, you’ll notice the energy and personality they possess.

The story of the penguins begins with a group of 46 original penguins at the San Francisco Zoo in the early 2000’s. This group had become overly comfortable and relaxed. Life was great; they lived at a nice, easy pace. The original group was very laid-back. They would go for a morning swim, eat, and then lie around and relax all day. Nothing ever excited them too much or brought the group down. Well one day a new group of six penguins were introduced into this group. These six were quite different from the original group. When they arrived and joined the group, the new penguins did something different: they swam all day long. Soon after, the original group joined in. Something dramatically different was taking place. Instead of being lazy and living a relaxed life, the original group were now living a much more active and exciting life. There are three lessons we can take from the penguins and apply to leadership in any walk of life.

The first lesson is that a leader must have enthusiasm. The power of a few motivated and enthusiastic people can change the masses. That’s exactly what happened with the penguins. The new six were in the minority, yet they did not let that dictate their actions. With their energy and enthusiasm they were able to influence the original group with their actions. If you are in a leadership position you must be the most excited person in your building, or on the court. As a coach I must be excited about what I am doing and teaching. If I am not, why should my players give their best effort? This particular lesson is especially important for anyone that is in a leadership position in a new environment. Go into the new environment with a passion and energy unknown to the group, and soon they will follow you. People want to be around others who motivate and inspire through action. Be a penguin; have enthusiasm.

Secondly, a leader must be willing to try new things. If the six new penguins hadn’t been willing to try something radically different from the original 46, they would have been subjected to a dull, listless lifestyle. But because they were willing to be different, they got the entire group to follow their lead. One of my pet peeves is the saying, “Well that’s the way it’s always been done.” That saying and mentality is old and tired. It relies on the status quo and promotes a sense of complacency that will foster an environment void of creativity. To become something better, leaders must show others that by trying something new a better life awaits. Be a penguin; be willing to try new things.

Lastly, it is imperative for a leader to show rather than tell. If the new penguins would’ve come in and lectured the original group on the benefits of swimming all day and being active, they would’ve most likely been tuned out. It is because of their action that they were able to draw the attention and win over the original group. Leaders must remember that people want to be shown rather than told. It’s crucial that leaders never ask something of anyone that they themselves would not be willing to do. If you are a coach, don’t just sit, watch, and bark orders. Get out there and actively demonstrate what you want to be done. Be active and participate in practice; you’ll get a much better effort from you players if they see you engaged physically. If you’re a leader in the business world, don’t just lead from the boardroom. If the only time the people below you see in action is in meetings, you’re not being effective. You need to get out there and lead by example. Get out of the office and actively engage with your employees. Be a penguin; show rather than tell.

I hope you are able to take these three lessons from a group of six penguins and put them to use. Sometimes we tend to make things too complicated. It is one of the traits of poor and ineffective leadership. However, if we follow these three lessons we will be on a path to be great and effective leaders.

Have a great week, thanks for reading, and be an RGP today!

Here’s a link to a talk I gave a youth baseball team in which I discussed penguin leadership:

Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • Bonnie Burton says:

    What a fantastic article! This is probably the best you have written and is able to be incorporated in all careers. Enthusiasm is the key to everything in life. Thank you for your story and pointing out what should be the obvious.

  • kelmendorf says:

    Glad you enjoyed it, I appreciate the feedback and support! Enthusiasm is definitley key.