When asked “who or what is your main source of inspiration when it comes to leadership?” most leaders name the CEO of a huge company, a certain coach, or a public figure. But, have you ever thought about learning about leadership from nature?
Biomimicry is a growing area in science; it is the act of imitating what naturally occurs in nature to create human-centered products, experiences, and designs. We have always looked to nature for ideas; scientists who studied the microscopic hairs on a gecko’s feet that allow them to climb vertical surfaces realized that the same technology could be beneficial in medicine and developed adhesives to close wounds without stitches.
If you ever stop and pay attention, you will notice that nature has its own interconnected system that guides the day-to-day process of its members — just like any organization. If you really look, there is a lot you can learn as a leader by observing the models, processes, and systems around you.
1. Having a solid root foundation
The strongest and healthiest trees often have the most extensive and solid root foundation. Most plants can tolerate a fair amount of damage to their stems and branches, but as long as their roots are still healthy and strong, they can bloom and grow strong again.
This also goes for a company and its leaders. If the foundation and culture of a company are strong enough, and the core values are deeply embedded in ethical principles, the organization will stand a greater chance of surviving any kind of crisis. Additionally, when a leader has deeply grounded values that act as a guide, they will be able to adeptly navigate through difficult times.
2. The importance of interconnectedness
Soil and rain are key factors that determine the quality of a good wine harvest. No two grapevines are the same; it requires different levels of maintenance, sustenance, and will yield different results. There’s this interconnection between the soil, water, and vines — an interconnected system.
The same goes for a leader and their employees. A great leader is aware of the importance of understanding how systems work. Good leaders see the company as a whole (like a tree or a forest) as well as the different elements: The processes (soil) need to be fertilized so it is up to date and relevant, the people (leaves) need to be nurtured in order to sustain the whole tree, and so on. Every element contributes to the system and allows it to produce the best possible performance and results.
3. How to bend and not break
Change is inevitable and leaders can look to nature for lessons on how to survive or even thrive in spite of change. During unprecedented times, the best example to look up to is a palm tree. Unlike other trees that stand straight to weather the storm only to be knocked down after some time, palm trees will bend — following the direction of the storm. Being adaptable allows them to remain standing when the wind dies down.
Whenever you feel that you are constantly dealing with unending crises and chaos that weathers you down, don’t let it throw you off your game. Learn how to be a flexible leader and adapt to the changes life throws at you. Do not let yourself be stuck in the rules of your own making, unable to innovate your way out of a problem. Be confident in the strength of your roots, and know that after the storm passes, it will actually strengthen you.
4. Working as a colony
The ants are the best role models for how teamwork should work. A single ant may not be able to do much, but when they work together cohesively, they are able to ensure the survival of the whole colony. Ant societies divide labor, communicate effectively and solve complex problems as a team. These colonies behave like superorganisms that work as a unified entity where every member of the team plays a role to help the colony thrive.
Similarly, your organization will benefit from taking a leaf from ant behavior. As a leader, it is essential that you establish a clear process and ensure that your team members work as a cohesive and organized unit with clear goals in mind. It is crucial to build a culture of teamwork and collaboration so that every member of the team can constructively contribute to the organization’s overall goals — thus, increasing stakeholder value.
5. Bearing fruits
A fruit is an effect, a result that comes after a series of actions — from preparing the soil, planting the seed, watering, and harvesting. The result could be a deliciously sweet or sour fruit or the harvest may bear nothing at all.It all depends on a multitude of factors and elements that go into nurturing the plant.
A great leader understands that the sweetest fruits require the right knowledge, skills, and hard work. They have to fully understand what it takes to nourish and nurture the plant until the fruit of their labor is ready for the taking.
However, even the greatest leaders can sometimes end up with bad fruits. It might be because they mistakenly chose to plant a bad seed or because they need to change something in the way they nurture the plants.
The most important thing for leaders to remember is that the sweetest fruits do not come easy. There’s a learning process to it. They need to find the willingness to keep trying in order to figure out the best way to nurture a healthy tree with strong roots that yields the sweetest fruits.
6. Appreciating every contributor
Sometimes we can be too focused on appreciating the beauty of a whole tree, the flowers or the sweetness of its fruits, that we forget other parts of the system — like the little leaves. Leaves may seem insignificant, but they are critical to the life of a tree. They are the ones working hard to turn carbon dioxide into sustenance for the tree and produce oxygen for every other living being.
As leaders, we should never take the contributions of our team members for granted or show favoritism to those whose roles may seem more important or visible than others. Every part of the system has its own role and helps the whole organization to function at its best. Showing gratitude and recognition is necessary to build team morale and ensure that each one of your employees feels valued and appreciated in your organization.
7. Patience and persistence
When it is time for baby birds to fly, they will be patiently and persistently encouraged by their parents to take flight. Slowly but surely, they will give them the nourishment they need so when the time comes, their wings will be strong enough to support their weight.
Great leaders understand the value of patiently coaching and supporting their team to prepare them to fly on their own. They will try their best to provide them with all the tools, knowledge, and opportunities to take on greater responsibilities, so their team members can grow into their full potential. This progress will not come overnight, that is why having patience and being persistent is essential.
Leaders, time to reflect
Leaders are responsible for growing and nurturing their teams so they can achieve the greatest outcomes. Observing how nature works can allow leaders to gain fresh insights into the different ways they can contribute to building a healthy organization that will flourish under their leadership.
The greatest leaders are the ones able to notice and learn from different sources and opportunities — including from nature. By paying attention to different elements of the ecosystem, they can learn the importance of connection, the power of resiliency, the value of flexibility, and the significance of leading through change.
But it does not stop there. Smart leaders will take everything they have learned and implement this into their leadership styles and their business. Now the question is, are you one of those leaders?