Lessons Of Leadership Learned By Feeding The Birds

Vantage Points Header Joel ElvesonI have been away from writing for a while due to a myriad of reasons that range from health, depression, and recruiting projects. During this time I took up the “hobby” of feeding the birds who fly by my living room windows en route to the grassy part of our backyard whereupon they feast on the pieces of bread I scatter about in one small area for them.

As I have gotten more involved with my new found hobby I started to pay attention to the different species of birds that come to visit my bird feeding station and notice each species (I am not a bird expert so I cannot identify which species is which other than the robin, the crows and perhaps the little brown starlings) had a leader with each leader having a different style they employ yet as different as each style is they manage to lead in manner similar to the leader of the other species of birds. The leader of the Starling will land on the fence just above the bread while carefully surveying the landscape for landing spots or viability of landing in the middle of the field. Having satisfied its information gathering process the leader bird will send out a chirping signal to the others so they may join in the meal gathering.

Conversely, the Crow will conduct several precision pattern flyovers to obtain the information it needs to decide if it is prudent to call out to its fellow crows to join the Starlings in the feeding field. Once both have landed they each go about their business of feeding themselves and taking extra back to their nests presumably to feed their family. Not one bird will interfere or attempt to steal from another bird even though the leaders are no longer distinguishable to the human eye they remain ever present.

The Robin is the most daring and aggressive of all as their leader will land on a tree stump or branch within a few feet of me watching as I “set the table” so the festive feast can begin. Having qualified the field as containing enough of a meal offering for its fellow Robins a different more rhythmic call goes out hence the Robins join in.

Leaders, we know all have their own distinctive style that they employ. The responsibility of the leader is hardly a surprise to anybody as are the consequences if there is failure that ensued as a result of their leadership. What many leaders fail to recognize is that they must never cease to attend “classes” that will reinforce or add to their communication effectiveness.

The core strength of leaders should be his (or her) ability to concisely communicate with all levels of the “community” that they have been elected &/or appointed to lead. If both your oral and written communication skills are sub-par so too will be your leadership tenure which may very well be short lived.

While my flying feathered friends do not possess any ability to communicate via the printed word (or none that we are aware of) they are uncanny communicators who also lead via various weaves and bobs of their heads and bodies to the extent that the other birds who are of a different species clearly understand.

In this modern day era that we live in where personal and not so personal interpersonal communication skills are of tantamount importance rare is the leader (dare I say virtually non-existent) who can communicate void of the ability to speak or write words which is a stark contrast not only to the bird but other members of the animal nation who despite the lack of a vocabulary manage to get their points or messages out to whomever they deem it necessary to deliver it to.

In the case of the bird (or any other animal for that matter), it is unknown how it is decided who the leader will be and how they come to have this title awarded to them. Yet as I have mentioned they do have leaders in place who possesses leadership skills far superior to their human counterparts who often struggle or crumble under the weight of leadership.

If a leader struggles with their leadership ability those under them will inevitably struggle as well having nobody to set a standard to go by. When a leader struggles invariably it is due to poor communication skills. Communication, as I emphasized earlier, is a core competency every leader must have a mastery of.

In my faith throwing bread out to the birds is a very big commandment with little room for loopholes. This commandment presented me with an opportunity to conduct a completely non-scientific study of a certain animal species that I never for one moment anticipated doing or set out to do. It was from there that I observed leadership at its finest. That innate ability to keep order in a situation that can clearly call for confusion fed chaos. Keeping order, creating an atmosphere where a common goal is shared amongst all in a group with everybody having a specific responsibility so as to be able to achieve that goal is tantamount to the success of the leader. Leadership is the ability to lead and to do so across multi-disciplines.

The lessons of leadership learned by the simple task of feeding free-flying birds were not something I expected to learn as I personally consider myself neither a leader nor a follower. Nonetheless, it was an extraordinary lesson that I was taught by professors whose Ph.D.’s were inbred in them as opposed to videos, textbooks, and lectures that a leader as we know them must undertake.

By the time you read this article another round of bird feeding will have taken place. With that will come more watching, observing and yes even marveling at what I have just witnessed with the new added dimension of adding to the conclusions that my study has already produced.


Joel Elveson
Joel Elveson
INDEPENDENT Executive Recruiting By Joel is an "up and coming" Executive Search Firm formed and headed up by Joel Elveson whose visionary ideas, leadership & creativity have brought to life a more "user-friendly" approach to recruiting. His clients and candidates form powerful strategic partnerships that we use to help you. Joel’s Firm offers Permanent, Temporary (case by case), & Temporary To Permanent staffing solutions for all of your Human Capital Requirements. Contract IT/Consultants are available if needed. Above and beyond they are experts (by way of their personal industry work experience) with mortgage, mortgage banking, middle-market banking, accounting, along with many others under the vast financial spectrum of disciplines. Their business goes beyond candidate recruiting as they also train, mentor and develop your internal recruiting staff with an eye towards helping you reduce the cost of hiring. They will also work in areas such as compensation, effective onboarding processes and alike. In other words, their business is to help your business by becoming an extension of you by filling in gaps that cause delay or waste. The recruiting methods employed by Joel’s team are time tested that results in a high rate of successful placements. Joel was trained in the art of recruiting by some of the top staffing industry executives in addition to the best recruiter trainers who to this day drive me to exceed the lofty goals he has set forth.

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  1. A great writing and lesson Joel. Very enjoyable and informative read. The power and patterns of mother nature teaches us a great deal about who we truly are in this fishbowl called life. Hope you are well my friend. Johnny

    • Thank you, Johnny, for your very kind words. It is gratifying to see that you understood the underlying message of my article. Take care and be well.

  2. Joel, as I read your article I became immersed in the world of the birds with their mysteriously-elected leadership and group feeding skills. Thank you for taking me there. I love birds but I’ve never observed them consistently enough to notice these types of patterns. Although recently I did feel significantly “observed” by a bird. I was walking in a bird sanctuary with a friend when we spotted a bald eagle. We were both excited and stopped to enjoy the moment. The bald eagle flew to a tree closer to us where he was perfectly camouflaged from anyone who had not seen him land. He proceeded to observe us for a long while. I would have loved to know what the eagle got from observing us. It felt friendly and peaceful. Perhaps he was just curious. If a conversation had been possible, I would have loved to hear his thoughts. 🙂

    • I do not know a lot about wild birds such as Eagles. The birds I watch and observe I think are called starlings. They visit our yard in search of bread which I always throw out to them. One bird always lands on a fence in back of the yard and watches me. I suspect he or she is the leader. He or she will occasionally jump down to start eating. After I leave or during the time I am throwing the bread the bird on the fence lets out different types of chirps to tell the other birds to come down. Once I am back inside I watch them as they all fly down to join the feast. Sometimes they fight over a piece of bread while other times they share with each other. You can tell which of the birds is a mother as she takes pieces of bread flies away and comes back. From from what I understand these type of birds do not associate with humans. Watching them as I did (and do) has taught me many things. Just now Juice walked over to her feeding dish which she saw was empty (she overeats sometimes and regurgitates her food so I have to regulate the amount of food she has. By the way Juice always looks for food around 11:3pm every night) looked up at me and meowed. It was her food meow. She makes different sounds and different actions to show what it is she wants. Yes, I am an animal lover.

  3. Very cool analogy, Joel. We enjoyed an African safari and a few years ago and were fascinated by the symbiotic relationships shared by different species of animals due to their particular gifts. The leadership of the “herd” would shift as the ones with the appropriate skill would take the lead when their gift was needed by the group. It saved them from predators and helped them find the food they needed. We can obviously learn a lot from the animal kingdom….thanks for sharing your insights.

    • Sandy,
      Thank you for your very kind comments along with your very astute observations. I could not agree with you more that there is much we can learn from the animal kingdom. We are fortunate to have our cat juice who is not only a member of our family but she also serves as a teacher and a tutor. Take care and be well.

    • thanks, Joel. I do enjoy your pieces and look forward to others. Shabbat Shalom and have a great weekend.

    • Larry, the more I watch the interactions between different species of birds with each other as well as with bees, squirrels, and humans they become that more fascinating. I have noticed that when I am throwing out bread there will usually be one bird who will sit on the fence watching me. Once I am finished throwing out the bread the bird that was on the fence will call out to the other birds to come eat.

  4. On my long walks in Chicago and its suburbs, I come across birds that laid claim to the areas I’ve “trespassed”; pigeons, geese, and cardinals. Pigeons, well they treated me like just one of the guys. When they aggregate to take off, they just assume I’m coming with them. Ever see one hundred of those guys take off right in front of you?

    Now there are those geese that mark their territory by leaving their organic markers all around. A really mess. They act like a gang, looking at you as if they’re saying “what you looking at punk?”. They assume they own everything: the sidewalk, the street, and sometimes the car your driving. Sometimes they go into “hiss” fits and posturing when you’re too close.

    The cardinals? Well they see to hang around in the outdoor restaurant areas. Those guys like doing sneak attacks on my head. Sometimes the Chicago weather made my hair fuzz out, and those cardinals just loved to take a few free sample hair strands for their nests.

    What do I learn from my walks? Walk the direction the pigeons are facing, wear boots, and use hair gel. In business terms that’s knowing the political climate, use the right tools, and always look good.

    • Chris,
      I am impressed by your in depth knowledge of the habits of different types of birds. From all that you saw were there any of the species that you can see was the leader? How did they show their leadership? Thank you once again Chris for taking the time to read my article and provide me with your very interesting comment. All my best.

    • Pigeons act like drunk frat boys at a party. One will go and do something, usually something stupid, and a few other will follow suit.

      Geese act like gangs, where each gang has a hard core leader that may engage or get his lieutenants to engage in intimation and fights.

      With cardinals, I’m not sure. The impression I get with them is that one cardinal dares the other to pluck a few strands off of my head. When the one dared tries to do so, I swoosh it a way, while the other one swoops in and liberates a few strands.

    • Very interesting and informative response. I have to watch the birds more closely to try and spot these behaviors. It is amazing how many people take time from their day or weekend to make the type of observations that you did. Your contribution to this discussion is very much appreciated. All my best.

  5. Joel, I spent 14 years living in the woods after my retirement. I watched birds, ducks, pigs, raccoon, and a dozen other species. Like you, with your birds, I learned a lot. More than from all the professors I had, and all the books I’ve read.

    All animals have a complex communication system comprised of sounds and body language. They can even communicate between species. As an example, many animals, including feline, canine, raccoon, possum, etc. will roll over on the back to show submissiveness by exposing the belly. Have you ever noticed that a cat will invariably go to the person that doesn’t like cats or is allergic to them. The reason being that the person unwittingly squints slightly upon seeing the cat. To the cat that is a signal that the person loves the cat and the cat begins rubbing on the person’s leg, or jumps into the lap.

    We currently have a raccoon that comes by the pool cage each morning for a breakfast of dried dog food. She is pregnant and when the babies are old enough she will bring them to the door to introduce them and tell them that I’m not a danger.

    • Ken,
      It’s always refreshing to read comments such as yours. You showed an amazing insight into the habits of the birds you watched. Being a cat owner I couldn’t help but being struck how well you know them as well. I too am a cat owner and have found them to be incredible pets/companions with definite leadership skills as I have seen from birds. In terms of leadership which of all the species you watched who amongst them stood out as the leader? Thanks so much for reading and commenting on my article.

    • Devaney, Thank you for your lovely words. I am happy to read my that article was one that you enjoyed reading. It is for people like you that I write. Many thanks for reading and commenting on my article. All my best.

  6. Very cool post Joel Elveson

    It seems the best leaders and or birds in this magnificent insight into nature and our world have one thing in common they are advocates… I am not sure if there is a better title to strive for than “advocate”..

    Kind Regards,

    Glenn Melcher

    • Glenn,
      Thank you again for reading my article and for your very meaningful and wise comments. WE need to advocate and learn to do so by taking lessons from alternative sources even if they have feathers or what have you.