Leadership Lessons from a Flowing Stream

by | Feb 25, 2016 | Inspiration, Leadership | 0 comments

While on my routine walk on a Sunday morning, I took a closer look at a body of water flowing in a stream near my house. The sight was serene apart from the gentle flow of water splashing against pebbles, boulders, rocks and the grass. I immediately brought out my phone to take a picture of this captivating scene. As I did this, it occurred to me that there are some leadership lessons to be learnt from this observation.

To start with, I realised this stream has an impressive ability to adapt to conditions. Though, there were rocks, mud and a boulder inside the stream, the flow of water was not hindered. Rather, the stream rapidly adapted to the condition it faces and continued it flow. The lesson here is that a leader must have the ability to adapt to a changing world without losing focus. As a matter of fact, adaptability is one of the key attributes of an effective leader. I observed that as the water flows, configurations were been changed, new structures were created. A leader must be willing to let power shift from person to person based on the task on the ground. Forms, teams, groups could evolve and dissolve in organisations but the mission must be clear. No member of the team must be a lone ranger. New structures must continue to emerge without compromising the core vision of the organisation. The era of rigid structures is fast dissipating paving way for the fluidity that facilitates teamwork.

In addition, to its adaptability, the centre of interest for the water was to flow. Margaret Wheatley, a popular expert in the field of leadership and the natural sciences rightly pointed out that “water answers to gravity, to downhill, to the call of an ocean”. Clarity of focus is one of the prerequisites of leadership. Leaders must know where they are going before calling on other people to come on the journey with them. They must be able to create an inspiring vision for the future. They must be purposeful and focused on the vision despite challenges.

Another lesson is that of direction. The water was able to direct the activities of every member of the ‘team’- rocks, mud, silt, boulders etc. Leaders need to be able to point others in the right direction. To do this, their message must be very clear and must be communicated simply to team members. During my brief observation, I did not see any water flowing backwards. It is just one direction- forward.

Furthermore, I could see that dynamic relationship exist between the water and the rest of the ‘team’. The flow of water created synergies among the rocks, pebbles, mud, and grass in the stream. There is an interesting corollary here since leaders must provide platforms for their team to work together in other to attain a common goal. A good relationship makes a team happier and healthier. There are other relationship lessons for us here. Social connections are really good for us because loneliness kills. Research has shown that people who are more socially connected are happier, physically healthier and live longer than people who are less connected. People who lead organisations must see that people work together with one mind in achieving the collective mission.

As I leave the scene, I began to reflect on how much nature has to teach us on leadership. I do not think this is a coincidence.  Leaders must continue to adapt to changes in this ever changing world. They must find order in disorder. Continuous innovation and adaptability would be the cutting edge of our time. As they do this, the focus must be on achieving the intended goals.

Action Plans

  • Take some time to reflect on any works of nature. What leadership lessons have you learnt?
  • Take practical steps to work with others on any project. How did it go?
  • Clarity of focus is very crucial in life. Are you clear about your life purpose?


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