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Posted by on Apr 30, 2010

The EagleCam and Leadership Development

Some of my colleagues and I spend more time watching an incredible internet EagleCam than we probably should. This is a weather-proof camcorder trained on an eagle’s nest, where we have been watching the mom and dad raise three Bald Eagle chicks. It is something like one of those wonderful nature shows, delivered through a browser.

Someone asked about how the young eagles learn to fly. Do they just go for it and potentially fall? Get a lift from a parent? Start from the ground?

In the bird world, there is a verb called “branching,” where the birds hop out of the nest to a nearby, adjacent branch with a little assist from a flap of the wings. (They start to build the muscle needed to flap their wings while still in the nest. They stand around and beat their wings in a process called “wingercising.”) Next time, maybe they flap a couple of times, reaching for a farther branch. In the process, they are building muscle, improving coordination and balance.

At some indeterminate point, the “branching” becomes “flying.”

What does this have to do with a Leadership and Learning?

A lot, actually.

Apart from justifying the time spent watching this fascinating development, the point can be made that participants in leadership development classes and programs often get stuck around what they do now. How do they start to move toward what they want? Do they bet the ranch? Just go for it?

This is frightening to most human beings. (It’s akin to potentially falling to the ground, if it doesn’t work.)

Much better is “branching.” We recommend people pick one specific behavior they want to change, and then slowly, one step at a time, try something new. It should be in a safe environment, with people they know, respect and trust.

Examples of this could include listening more, eliciting others’ opinions, clarifying disagreements, trying to see other perspectives, or articulating more clearly the vision and mission.

All we really ask is that one modest step in the direction of the change be made. For example, in learning to listen more, I urge people to hang in there one more sentence before replying. That’s just a start. The fact is, once people see they can do that one little thing, they are more emboldened to do it again, perhaps longer or more reliably. This is building capacity, and hopping to farther branches.

Eventually, the new behavior “crowds out” the old behavior, and a new capability is present.

Taking this perspective relieves huge pressures on already-pressured leaders. One step, one stride, one thing – in the direction you want.

One other thing: The way the parents get the eaglets to start making forays out of the nest is to stop bringing them food. The hungry birds start to realize they have to change what they’re doing if they’re going to stay alive.

And, of course, this is exactly how change comes about in our lives. We need to adapt and change because the situation we’re in has changed.

What changes are you being asked to make by the environment, your people, your market? How can you “branch” and get started on that?

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