Over the next few days, I will be revisiting some of my favourite posts on Leadership. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed writing them!
Here is a description of a wolf pack that has been in circulation since the end of last year. The photo shows 25 wolves walking in a single file line in the snow.
“A wolf pack: the first 3 are the old or sick, they give the pace to the entire pack. If it was the other way round, they would be left behind, losing contact with the pack. In case of an ambush they would be sacrificed. Then come 5 strong ones, the front line. In the centre are the rest of the pack members, then the 5 strongest following. Last is alone, the alpha. He controls everything from the rear. In that position he can see everything, decide the direction. He sees all of the pack. The pack moves according to the elders pace and help each other, watch each other.”
A wonderful metaphor for leadership, collaboration and teamwork. The natural world gives us these metaphors that make us think about our human condition.
Leadership, vulnerability, hierarchy, survival, resilience, coping mechanisms, and collective action. All in one.
What a pity that it’s a hoax. Well, certainly not true.
‘It shows 25 timber wolves hunting bison in Wood Buffalo National Park in Canada. The female alpha wolf led the pack, and the others followed in a single file line to save energy as they made their way through deep snow, according to the environmental website Environment. (truthorfiction.com)’
Analogies are easy to construct. It’s part of human nature to see patterns, make conclusions, and infer good theories. It’s ‘practical’: ‘Nothing is quite so practical as a good theory’ (Kurt Lewin, father of social psychology 1890-1947).
Of course there are the artificial, the made up, the lies. But this is not always the case. They often represent a genuine attempt to produce an explanation, ‘a theory’.
Sports analogies in business are very frequent as well. I am very sceptical of the transferability of climbing high mountains to the leadership of the enterprise, of navigating solo in the Atlantic and the resilient organization. I have only been convinced once (very impressive) with boat racing. I am willing to see other areas, but I am not not very successful.
You could say that human behaviour, individual and collective, has to have commonalities (and analogies) in many areas, so I should be more open to this. You may have a point.
In the meantime, that wolf pack was not the wolf pack that explained the clues of leadership and collaboration. But it stayed in Facebook long enough to be elevated to the category of the truth.
I wonder how many other wolf packs there are around?
I’m not sure that a metaphor or parable needs to be true in order to be useful. Even made-up stories can provide us with a useful way of structuring what we see in the world. But they are not necessarily evidence of how things really work — for that, you have to go out and take a look.
This wolf story reminds me of a comment I once heard from a veteran sergeant during a military-science class on small-unit leadership. Someone asked him if it wouldn’t be better to do what this wolf story seems to advocate: the leader should hang back, where he can see what’s going on and where he won’t be picked off in an ambush. The sergeant grinned and said, “You can’t push a string.”