Why I Grit My Teeth About The Goose Story

Goose Story

Someone in a workshop was citing the infamous goose story that is so often told in leadership circles. I will keep it short as most people are now familiar with it as the new archetypal story for good leadership. Imagine a flock of wild geese flying in their natural V formation.

This archetypal story includes the geese all honking to cheer the lead goose on, said to demonstrate some kind of goodwill and collegiality. According to the preferred story, when a goose is sick or injured and flies out of the formation to the ground, its mate goes with it, staying with it, taking care of it, so it is not alone. The emphasis here is on caring and compassion. And then the final highly emphasized point in the story is that when the lead goose gets tired, it flies to the back of the formation to rest while another goose takes the lead of the formation. The story at this point is meant to demonstrate co-leadership and that every goose takes a turn leading the formation.

I am a strong advocate of recognizing leadership in everyone. The emphasis of our workshop tour, currently underway, is about Leading So People Will Lead and Nourishing a Culture of Leadership.

And so why is it that this goose story always causes me to grit my teeth?

The reason is that I think it is a very poor example for us to be using as an archetypal story about sharing leadership, about leadership in everyone. We need to find a better metaphor, a better archetypal story to capture what happens when leadership is a core organizational competency.

Let us explore the story again. Here is how I hear it, having been a senior leader myself.

The many geese that are honking could be making demands, not cheering. Their honking is what exhausts the leader. The leader gives up and goes to the back of the formation, completely spent, burnt out, exhausted. Another goose goes to the front honking ‘I can do it better’, until he also burns out and falls to the back. The occasional goose, not able to keep up with the V formation, falls to the ground. Because it is expected, the mate goes along to care for her. Both regain their strength, but the V formation of their collective of geese did not wait for them, nor did they leave any sign posts for finding them. The pair is simply abandoned, left to fend for themselves if they can….or die of starvation if they cannot. And meanwhile, as more and more burnout is happening brought about by all that honking, more and more leaders fall to the back. Yes indeed, this could be another version of this goose story. Sadly, this version of the story is all too familiar in enterprises.

For my friends in North America, I also wish to acknowledge what we know about the most common form of goose, the Canada Goose.  It is known as quite a pest and a nuisance to parks, waterfronts and people. Some parks in Canada are no longer human-friendly as the geese, a protected bird, have taken over the parks and get quite aggressive when humans, especially human children, enter.

Let us find a better archetypal story for leadership. The stories we adopt have a powerful impact.

This is one of the topics we cover in our workshop The Genuine Contact Way: Nourishing a Culture of Leadership.  We have one final offering of this workshop on this leg of our world tour . To learn more about the power of your leadership story, please join us in Ontario, Canada May 27-28. Check for registration information at www.genuinecontactway.com/events.

What metaphor would you suggest as a new and powerful metaphor for leadership? Share it in a comment below.

Birgitt Williams
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Birgitt Williams is an international management and organizational solutions consultant, author, meeting facilitator, teacher, keynote speaker and executive coach. Her business focus is to create inspiring work environments that are highly effective in achieving their purpose and fulfilling their vision.

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