Byron's Babbles

Pelican Leadership Lessons

Posted in Education, Education Reform, Leadership, Learning Organization by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on April 9, 2012

Brown Pelican who became our fishing friend as my son and I were cleaning fish!

I just returned from our annual spring break trip to Destin, Florida. We literally live on the beach for eight days. One of my favorite things about beach life are the Brown Pelicans. Every year I am amazed by these majestic birds and the lessons we can learn from them.

The most amazing thing they do is fly in cooperative “u” and “v” shaped groups. They do this to drive the fish to shallow water. Many times they will beat their wings on the surface of the water to drive the fish. So, like many species they collaborate to catch their food. We can learn from the Brown Pelican that without collaboration, the group/team does not succeed.

It is also amazing to watch these birds fly in a straight line. It is really cool to watch them fly right over the surface of the water. The lead bird will go up and down with the ebb and flow of the waves just above the surface. All the other birds follow in a perfect rhythmic wave. We as leaders need to also make this smooth adjustment to the ebb and flow of our daily happenings.

Additionally, Pelicans fly in a “V” pattern. Flying this way reduces drag and saves energy (actually up to 20%). Don’t you think collaborating saves 20% of our energy as well? Even more interesting is the fact that the lead bird in the “V” has to work the hardest by breaking through the air where there is the most resistance. Sound familiar? But wait, the Pelicans have figured out this leadership challenge as well. The lead bird does not stay at the point of the “V” for very long. It drops back to let another bird lead so it can rest and have leadership renewal.

This is a very smooth transition that happens in flight. In other words, biological stress necessitates this constant transition. More importantly, every Pelican in the “V” can lead. Can you say that about everyone in your organization? Does everyone have the opportunity or feel the need to lead?

Think about it. For us, biological stress also dictates we need to rest and be renewed. Also, collaborative organizations are healthier when the hierarchies are flattened and leadership is distributed.

I am particularly excited that in Indiana, part of our new teacher evaluation system involves the teachers’ ability to provide school leadership. When effective distributions of leadership occurs all teachers are better able to lead from where they are. Leadership must occur from all levels.

Next time you need a visual reminder of leadership – Look to the Pelican

Loving the scraps we were throwing him!

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  1. […] I posted a story from our Spring Break trip about Pelican Leadership Lessons. Today’s post deals with the travels of Flat Stanley with me. The week before Spring Break my […]


  2. Isaiah 1:18 « Byron's Babbles said, on October 6, 2012 at 3:25 pm

    […] Amongst all the great stuff O’Reilly (2012) included in this book, one part really moved me; particularly in a Presidential election year. In the book, O’Reilly points to Lyndon B. Johnson’s (LBJ) favorite Bible verse: Isaiah 1:18. This verse exemplifies LBJ’s passion and abilities for building coalitions; or being “collaborative” as I would call it. I have written about collaboration in previous posts such as Putting Learning Organization Theory into Practice andPelican Leadership Lessons. […]


  3. […] observing these wonderful animals. I have done other blog posts with lessons from animals, such as Pelican Leadership Lessons, Living and Leading Like A Lobster, and Leading Like A Platypus. Using animals as metaphors for […]


  4. […] Brown Pelican is one of my favorite birds. In fact I have blogged about them before in Pelican Leadership Lessons. The Brown Pelican will target and dive for food from heights of 60-65 feet. They have also learned […]


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