The Nature of LeadershipWhat do a meadowlark, cricket, and squirrel have to do with leadership? The answer in a minute…

Nature has a way of spurring memories and calming minds. It is that fresh breeze blowing through the prairies or those cool, fresh mornings where everything seems renewed and possible. We hear a meadowlark sing their continuous song, oblivious to all around. During the day, we may see squirrels playing in a park, running carefree until a dog may interrupt their joy. As a day ends, we hear crickets in the night, chirping us into a silent sleep.

All seems good and right, right? And, what does this have to do with leadership?

Here’s the point.

Meadowlark. A meadowlark sings a beautiful song, no matter what may be going on in the trenches. All seems good from up above. It is a state of oblivion of sorts, ignoring what is happening on the ground and all around. From their viewpoint, all seems to be going well, and they do not take the time to see reality and deal with it. The easier approach is to sit high up and sing a song of beauty.

Leaders can be meadowlarks. While all seems well from their viewpoint, on the ground, teams are struggling, and individuals are facing continuous hurdles. Unrealistic optimism in the face of facts that don’t support it creates a big disconnect between leaders and the rest of the organization.

There is no problem in being overly optimistic as long as the leader is also on the ground supporting what is really happening, removing barriers, absorbing metrics, setting goals, and enabling people.

Squirrel. This may be unfair to squirrels, because it isn’t necessarily their fault. They serve as a distraction. The famous scene in Up in which the dogs get distracted by their “squirrel” moment. We have all seen these moments in our organization. As we try to solve problems or present ideas, all of sudden the conversation is steered in a completely different direction.

Easily distracted leaders can be some of the worst. It is frustrating to try to get an answer when you have to go down an endlessly winding road and never reach a destination. Getting through those “squirrel” moments can be exhausting, especially when there are so many important things that need to be done.

There is no problem in taking on added topics as long as the original question or issue is resolved. It is important to give people your undistracted attention when they have done their work to present an idea or solution.

Cricket. Crickets sing into the night, indicating all is quiet and normal. Even though there may be stillness in an environment, an undercurrent of activity may be pulling people and activities in a wrong way.

Leaders who are silent when something dishonest is said, a wrong action is taken, or a bad behavior is exhibited are ones who let cultures spin out of control. Spinning is the right visual, as we can see the spiral going down the drain. We see our hard work over the months and years being wasted. We see our voices being ignored. We see waste continue to happen.

It is inexcusable when leaders look away, for whatever reason. Part of being a leader is to take on the tough tasks, have the critical conversations, and hold people accountable. Silence is not an answer when the noises of wrong or inappropriateness rise up.

There is no problem in being quiet when someone is trying to speak up or deliver insights that may be challenging to give. However, when something needs to be addressed, a leader needs to be vocal and take action. Ignoring problems or challenges leads only to discontent and eventual demise.

This is what a meadowlark, squirrel, and cricket have to do with leadership.

  • Don’t just sing positive sayings when realistic work and effort is required. Keep spirits up while keeping the work grounded.
  • Don’t be distracted when your full attention is required. Keep focused to move ideas and solutions forward.
  • Don’t be quiet when taking a stand is required. Keep standards high and hold all – and, I mean all – accountable.

Lift people up by giving them your attention when needed and your actions when required. It is the lesson of the meadowlark, squirrel, and cricket.