Lead On!

One of the routes I walk through my neighborhood takes me past a large pigeons’ roost. The pigeons and I have an agreement of sorts: I will walk slowly so as not to scare them as they pick at whatever they’re picking at on the ground. And those sitting above me in the trees will not, well, you know.

On one particular day, a truck blared its horn as it approached a nearby intersection, and the startled pigeons took flight. But they didn’t scatter randomly in the air. They took flight as if they were a single bird, turning and swooping in near-perfect unison.

That reminded me of a similar avian behavior — but on a much more massive scale.

Video credit: “The Art of Flying” – A film by Jan Van Ijken

Especially in coastal areas, Starlings and Red Wing blackbirds congregate in these massive numbers just before they roost for the night. This behavior is known as a “murmuration,” and ornithologists believe it’s done for protection. Swarm as a single unit with frequent changes in direction, and the group will confuse hungry hawks looking to pick off a single bird for an easy dinner.

Interesting, yes? But much more fascinating is how they do it. To find out, researchers photographed such swarms with very high-speed film. And then they slowed the film down so they could isolate the birds’ minuscule movements. Here’s what they discovered:

Because of the size of the swarm, there is no way for birds in the middle or back of the mass to key off the birds upfront. What they do instead is key off the 5-7 birds immediately ahead of them who in turn, key off the 5-7 birds ahead of them who, well, you get it.

The result is this beautiful, undulating, flowing form. The birds all look like they’re turning at precisely the same time when in reality, mere fractions of seconds separate one small group from another.

The second observation is that leadership constantly shifts. No single bird is always the leader with all other birds always following it. At any given moment, the current leader will pull back, and a new leader will take over.

And that brings us to this week’s podcast episode and guests, Todd Nesloney and Adam Dovico. Todd and Adam are life-long educators and the co-authors of When Kids Lead: An Adult’s Guide to Inspiring, Empowering, and Growing Young Leaders. There, they push aside the myth that “leadership” as a kid is restricted to an official position such as student council president or model U.N. representative.

Instead, as in the murmuration, every kid can serve as a leader at their level — and they can influence the actions of other potential young leaders. With the support of adults, kids can strengthen their confidence and skills, and demonstrate leadership by stepping up and serving others in some capacity. And in doing so, they can fend off such “adolescent hawks” as low self-esteem and not fitting in.

If you made it this far, thank you. Your online content choices are as plentiful as the birds in a murmuration. Thanks for flying with us. Now, roost for a minute, and enjoy the episode.


Jeff Ikler
Jeff Ikler
The river that runs through my career lives – as teacher, publisher, coach, podcaster and author – is helping individuals acquire knowledge, skills, and self-awareness so they can better achieve their desired results and impact. • As Director of Quetico Leadership and Career Coaching, I work with individuals and leaders to overcome obstacles and make sustained changes in their behavior. • I co-host the podcast “Getting Unstuck – Shift for Impact,” where I bring to light inspirational stories of transformation in the field of education. • I am the co-author of the soon-to-be-published book for school educators, Shifting: How Educational Leaders Can Create a Culture of Change.

SOLD OUT! JOIN OUR WAITING LIST! It's not a virtual event. It's not a conference. It's not a seminar, a meeting, or a symposium. It's not about attracting a big crowd. It's not about making a profit, but rather about making a real difference. LEARN MORE HERE



  1. Hi, Jeff.
    My stepson went to Fairhaven – a Sudbury School in Upper Marlboro. Every student must serve on the Assembly, which runs the school in every way – a jury for infractions, a rules committee, paying the bills, connecting to other schools, and so on. The staff are only there as a resource; the kids serve as leaders and managers of everything, and to graduate, each must write and defend a thesis – this is how I know I’m ready to go out there. Each student is in charge of her/his behavior and learning – no classes unless a student initiates it.
    I had the pleasure of doing some work with the school and was floored by how quickly the kids embraced and rose to leadership. You can spot a Sudbury graduate by their confidence and candor. For the most part, we way-underestimate the capacity of our kids to run their own train. The message they get always includes a dose of “you can’t handle very much, so be compliant.”