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How to be a great leader? Lessons learned by nature

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Ben Steenstra Ben Steenstra
26-03-2019 3 mins read

Learn how to be a great leader by learning from the laws of nature. Effective leadership is not what you always thought it was.

Before we study great leadership, we have to ask ourself if leadership is really necessary. Many books have been written about leadership and authentic leadership styles. All very interesting and I have devoured quite a few, but the essence of leadership is rarely mentioned. What is leadership all about, and is it essential to be or have a leader?

The primary school taught that we humans are pack animals. And as everyone knows, a pack animal needs a leader. But maybe this seems not entirely correct.

How to be a great leader

Is leadership necessary? Leadership in nature

At the beginning of 2000, a group of scientists investigated a pack of wild deer. They wanted to know what role the leader had in the group and how that pack leader made decisions. One day the herd faced a dilemma. They had to drink but had two options.

A small, safe stream that was not that far away and a larger but more dangerous stream that was slightly further away. If the leader opted for the smaller stream, perhaps not every deer would have a drink and could die of thirst later. If the pack leader opted for the larger brook, there could also be casualties from the threat of other wild animals.

For a clear-minded person, this is already a brain teaser, let alone for a deer who cannot consult with his strategic advisors.

The researchers were curious to see what the pack leader would do. A choice on intuition or on the gamble? To the amazement of the researchers, suddenly some deer stood with their nose towards the little stream. Shortly after that, a few other deer moved towards the big stream, followed by a few others who stood towards the small stream.

The deer moved alternately towards one or the other stream until precisely 51% of the deer moved towards the small stream, and the whole herd moved in that direction.

Time and, again, the researchers saw the same pattern if a choice had to be made. The pack leader did not have any say in this! It became even more remarkable when the researchers examined other pack animals. There, too, exactly the same ritual took place.

We may not need leaders at all.

The statement that we humans are pack animals and therefore need a leader is entirely incorrect based on the knowledge above. That does not mean that leadership is always undesirable with people who can confer and have a greater mind than a deer. In many cases, it can even be very effective to create a strong team.

But what the researchers have shown is that we as pack animals are naturally democratic. The majority determined. If we already need leaders, shouldn't democracy be the foundation of every leadership style?

Is leadership necessary? Democratic leadership

One of the seven most well-known leadership styles is democratic leadership. With the realization that leadership is about democracy, I would call this a foundation rather than a style. If several leadership styles can already be identified, they do not belong to leadership but management.

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