The synergy of geese

Synergy comes from the Greek word synergia, meaning joint work and co-operative action (

geese in a V

Have you ever watched geese take flight?

What starts as a chaotic lift off, in a matter of seconds, sorts itself into a clearly defined line which straightens, arches slightly, and then bends sharply to form a perfect V shape.

So what does this feathery phenomenon have to teach us about leadership? How might we work with the same sort of synergy as creative people, developing leadership skills and attributes alongside each other?

One plus one equals more than two

Synergy is a law of nature and we can learn a lot from flying together (

Geese flying in a V formation

It's a fact that by flying in a V formation, a flock of geese can move faster and maintain flight longer than any one goose flying alone. In fact it is said that working together in this way means the flock has a 71% greater flying range.

For many Sync members, we share a common goal and sense of direction: that is, to be seen, to be heard and to make an impact, and to break out of the cage we sometimes find ourselves in.

Being part of a community with a shared sense of purpose can make the realisation of individual ambition feel easier and enables us to get where we want and need to be, quicker.

Artist, Tanya Raabe very much warms to the synergy of geese and describes the V of the Disability Arts Movement, of which she is a part, 'being made up of fewer birds now, but with the same firmly held set of beliefs and intentions'.

Without this particular collective flight, she knows that she wouldn’t be where she is today, riding the disappointments and the wins! She also knows that being up front is a tiring business and that it pays to drop back from time to time, and give someone else the chance to take the lead.

For many other artists in Sync the idea of leading and leadership still ruffles a few feathers for its negative connotations. Tanya is someone who sees herself as a leader, but not a ruler, who, in relationships with others, wants to achieve the same things.

Read more about Tanya in her case study.

Go straight to Tanya Raabe's case study

What artists know about leadership

Artists learn everything about the medium in which they work... what they can expect from it and where it falls short. (Sharon Daloz Parks)

a potter at work

For many artists the idea of leadership is strange, but you only need to look at the practice of art for fantastic leadership qualities.

Sharon Daloz Parks describes this beautifully as she reveals the inherent leadership skills in being a potter in her article 'What Artists know about Leadership'

'A potter must learn that clay has its own life, its own potential and limits, its own integrity. The potter develops a relationship with clay, spending time with it, learning to know its properties and how it will interact with water, discovering that if you work it too hard, it will collapse and if you work with it, it will teach you its strength, your limits and the possibilities of co-creation.'

Beautifully put and fuel for all those artists out there. Leading is not about overuling people, it's about being in relationship with others.

Artists collective

Change can only be realised as part of a movement hence the focus on community building and consciousness-raising found in much art activism (Simon Sheikh)

a trapeze troupe working aerially together

Curator and critic, Simon Sheikh, is a great advocate for the artist collective and says that for artists to make an impact, they need to be part of something bigger than themselves, to collect together and develop a following at various points along the journey.

So how do artists develop a following? How are you developing your profile either as an artist or as someone who supports the arts in order to make it happen?

Are you a nifty social networker? Do you self promote? Do you have a fan club or do you use the quality, innovation, quirk and enterprise of the art itself to get the flock behind you?

For many of us, being out front is a difficult thing to try out, let alone master, and support and encouragement, the 'honking behind us', is a really important part of putting your neck out.

Honking from behind

Geese honk from behind to encourage those up front to keep up their speed (Leadership in Perspective)

geese honking from behind

Honking from behind is something that geese do naturally to encourage the bird up front to lead, to enable geese to fly in pairs, or even to assist the bird who falls out of the sky. This is perhaps one of nature's most astounding displays of unity.

When we as humans take the lead, the honking from behind can be more destructive than supportive of leadership. We know from experience that being out front often feels very risky, exposing and prone to criticism.

This mustn't be muddled with critique. Critique is an important part of the leadership process, but it's the way it's handled and whether ultimately it's about helping the flock overall.

Surely we need to celebrate and support those who are flying up front, learn from their experience: what works and doesn't and take that learning forward into our 'turn', as and when it happens.

A dynamic form of leverage

Today's world requires a critical mass of transformational leaders who will commit to creating a synergy of energy within their circle of influence so new level of social, economic, organisational and spiritual success can be reached. (Leadership in perspective)

a team working together to climb a wooden wall

So why don't we try to be more like geese and see if it gets us further in our quest for recognition and achievement.

How can we do this today and in the weeks and months ahead?

Perhaps we can get together in new ways and enjoy this natural form of leverage through social networking , through talking more about the work or by making more of it in new and exciting ways.

Why don't you put the leadership skills you already have because you are an artist into practice. Make sure you have a healthy set of honkers behind you as you take the lead.

What have you got to lose? Only time and energy. If you don't try these things, you may find yourself working six times harder for half the results.

The suitability of the Geese model for disabled people was first mentioned to us by Tony Heaton, Shape's Chief Exec, when we first videoed him for Sync.

To go straight to a video of Tony talking about the mainstream...