Thursday

Leaders learn from animals - to a point

I have been studying the traits and dispositions of the "lower animals" (so called) and contrasting them with the traits and dispositions of man. I find the result humiliating to me. - Mark Twain
Some organizational experts have suggested that leaders can learn by observing and drawing from animal behavior.

The comparison to animal behavior can certainly be interesting, and anthropologists have drawn certain parallels between animal and human behavior. If anything, though, the kind of animal behavior that allows the most aggressive and brutish of a pack to take over as leader is unfortunately one of those behavior models that all too often occur in human organizations - to the detriment of all. There have been numerous studies about people who are aggressive, domineering, hyper-competitive and even borderline sociopathic doing all too well in corporate hierarchies. That does NOT make them effective leaders.

If we look to the skies for example, bird behavior of following a "leader" as it tilts and wheels around the sky have been demonstrated to be the result of very primitive hard-wired responses to perceptual cues. This behavior is termed "flocking", and perhaps the most dramatic examples can be seen in starling "murmuration". As impressive and awe inspiring as it may be, it is a direct result of the birds having a few hard-wired behaviors, as can be demonstrated by "Cellular Automata" programmed with these same three rules:

1. Collision Avoidance: Steer to avoid obstacles and crowding local flockmates
2. Alignment: Steer towards the average heading of local flockmates
3. Cohesion: Steer to move toward the average position of local flockmates

It's not that we can't learn anything by observing other species. There are numerous good examples, such as the strong caring for the weak, protecting the young, etc. We just need to be careful not to oversimplify the nature of human leadership - as it has become far more complex than most wild animal scenarios.

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