I recently attended an event which looked at leadership through nature, and it was great to look at leadership through a different set of lenses.
So what can individuals and organisations learn from nature?
Adaptability is the key to survival
Plants and animals have learned that in order to survive you need to adapt and change to your environment. Nature is constantly evolving and changing and perhaps as individuals and organisations we need to learn that change is inevitable and always looking for ways to adapt to the world around us.
Also, nature is an emergent system with no clear goals or aims (besides survival!). So perhaps we need to accept organic growth and in fact embrace it. Change and adapt as the need arises, and grow as and when you can.
For organisations, there may be something to be said for allowing things to evolve, rather than forcing ideas in an annual business plan or funding cycle! If you are constantly scanning the environment, then when you notice something starting to change then it is then you need to look at what adaptations you need to make to survive, not when the yearly planning cycle comes around.
And finally, failures get eaten up or die out in nature! So we need to learn to let go of the things that don’t seem to be working. There is no point forcing a bad idea, we just get stuck and become fair game for our competition.
Interdependence – the need for communities to form
Nature is all about interdependence. There are so many examples of symbiotic relationships and of numerous different organisms feeding off trees and cohabiting the same place. There are some trees that will only grow if there is a particular plant in the area, as they need the bee that feeds off that plant to fertilise their flowers.
The focus of nature is very much on the collective rather than the individual.
What connections and dependencies do you have as an individual? What help and support can you get to aid your survival? What mutually beneficial relationships can you form that will allow numerous individuals or organisations to thrive and prosper?
Diversity is beautiful
Go into any natural environment and you will be astounded by the amazing different colours (even how many different greens there are!) and array of different plants and animals. In nature we celebrate the variation and the diversity and don’t ask why there isn’t more moss growing here where we think it “should” grow.
Perhaps in organisations we need to celebrate diversity and uniqueness too. Variety in an organisation will bring strengths and points of view that may not otherwise be represented.
Good things take time
There aren’t many examples of instant gratification in nature. Things take time to grow and develop and change, and perhaps we need to take time in our own lives as well. To get to full size perhaps we need to allow time to pass.
The right environment
Plants need the right environment to grow, and this will be different for different plants. Some need full shade, others dappled light and others it will be full sun. Perhaps you can think about what environment you need personally to fulfil your potential. Are there certain factors that need to be present in order for you to grow to your full height?
Within organisations it may be that we need to realise that the same environment may not suit everyone. I may work best at six in the morning and you may have your brain fully engaged at ten at night. Does the work environment allow for each of us to do our best? Or what about if I need complete silence and you need a buzz around you – does the organisation cater for that as well?
Nurture those growing
When seedlings pop up above the ground they need to be cared for in order to survive. They need the right amount of sun, light and perhaps fertilisation to ensure they survive. So when we are growing as individuals and organisations are we getting the right nurturing to ensure we grow up healthy?
Within organisations, are we helping to develop the leaders of tomorrow, so that they can one day form the canopy to provide shelter for the new seedlings?
Change is constant
Animals and plants have life cycles. Forests and rivers and deserts change over time too. What grows in a woodland at the early stages of its life will be different to what thrives many years later.
Do you have the expectation that the people you need in your business now will be the same ones who thrive when it is twice the size? Perhaps we need to realise that what works at one time in the life of an organisation may not be what works at another time. The leadership style may be different and the people you need around you may need to be different too.