Tag Archives: Leadership

Mama Osprey. The Female Leader with Natural Clout.

I know a leader when I see one. That’s how I’ve made my livelihood, at least to a part. Spotting leadership talent and helping it flourish.  Now I’ve spotted such talent in the nature reserve. Ready to lead. No coaching required.

roseate spoonbill and snowy egret
Community representatives: a Roseate Spoonbill and a Snowy Egret.

That’s Mama Osprey, of course. You knew it, right? Or you may want some proof? I have plenty.

First, she cares about her community. The salt marsh has plenty of fish, from huge footlongs to medium and small. It would be easy to just dive down from the nest and get breakfast, lunch and dinner. Like opening the fridge. But she doesn’t fish there.

Plenty of fish in the salt marsh
Plenty of fish in the salt marsh

She leaves the food supply for residents who can’t fish in the ocean. Like this tiny Tri-colored Heron.

tricolored heron caught a fish
A Tri-colored Heron caught a fish…

Second, she ensures peace in the community. She constantly scans the skies and the grounds for any threats. And warns the residents whenever she detects a potential danger. Like dogs walking their people or bicyclists on the foot path closest to the marsh.

 osprey watching the sky
Mama Osprey watching the sky to the South…
papa osprey watching the sky 2
…and to the North.

Or the two other ospreys, Stanley and Steve,  who have settled in the area. Don’t get me wrong. Mama Osprey lets them thrive in the park. And even allows them to use her favorite dead palm trunk as their breakfast bar.

Stanley, the second Osprey, eats breakfast on the dead palm trunk...
Stanley, the second Osprey, eats breakfast on the dead palm trunk…

But she keeps a watchful eye on their movements. And sends a message of caution, as and when warranted. It’s clear that she has earned their respect.

third osprey flying 6
Steve, the third Osprey, flies above the salt marsh…

Third, she’s on the top of everything in the community. Has the big picture. Gently keeps tabs on the residents’ comings and goings. Like this Great Blue Heron, who periodically takes trips to the bay-side to socialize with fishermen in exchange for free fish.

blue heron flying high up
The Great Blue Heron on his way from the salt marsh…
blue heron flying high 3
…to the bay-side.

Or the Pelicans who fly in shuttle traffic between the ocean and the bay right over the salt marsh.

two pelicans flying
Pelicans flying over the marsh towards the bay…

And the young Night Herons who practice landing at the tree tops with varying degrees of success.

A juvenile Night Heron about to land...
A juvenile Night Heron about to land…

And not to talk about the large Egret population that tends to move back and forth between the tiny islands in search of the best fish.

egret flying
A Great White Egret flies to better hunting grounds…

Fourth, Mama Osprey trusts her gut. I got proof of that just a couple of days ago when I met a nice bird photographer. He was a visitor, not familiar with the nature reserve . So we started to chat and I told him about the nest. After a while I heard Mama Osprey’s warning calls.  Unwanted disturbance too close to the nest.

papa ospreys nest from afar
Papa Osprey’s nest seen from the East end of the marsh…

And then saw the poor guy walk away from the vicinity of the nest. After he left, I went to see Mama Osprey. She was her calm, good-looking self and turned to greet me when I walked right under the nest. Not a peep, just a friendly nod. She definitely trusts her gut.

papa osprey saying hi to tiny
Mama osprey says hi…
papa osprey looking at the flowers
…and then admires the flowers on the ground.

Then we both admired the bright yellow wild flowers that had popped up right next to the nest pole. I snapped a picture, she checked on the little worm crawling on one of the flowers.

wild flowers below the nest

My conclusion, based on all this evidence, is that Mama Osprey is a pioneering community leader with natural clout. I hope you agree with my assessment.

Have a wonderful weekend!

Ps. This post has been edited after publishing when I discovered that PO (Papa Osprey) actually was Mama Osprey.


My Ostrich Moment

I don’t like conflicts or disagreements. Most of us don’t.  My natural inclination is to be positive and optimistic, always give the other party the benefit of the doubt. So when life throws these negative episodes in my way, my first instinct would be to bury my head in the sand or run away. Much like the poor ostrich has falsely been accused to do when it comes under attack.

This was particularly true when I was younger. Most often I would give in for this instinct, try to walk away or at least look in the other direction. What conflict? I didn’t see anything. And if I didn’t see anything, it wasn’t going to be there anymore. Or so I hoped. But that’s not how it works. Conflicts get worse by time if not dealt with. Life teaches us many lessons and one thing I feel I’ve learned something about is conflict resolution.

I credit much of my initial growth in this area to one specific conflict situation. Just before my thirtieth birthday, I was appointed to my first management job, as the Head of a Division of thirty some people, all considerably older than me. I knew it was a tall order, but believed that I could do it – with a lot of learning along the way. Some of my staff were very enthusiastic and others much less so. I observed this already in my first few days, but gave in to my inclination to look the other way. I was hoping that if I just worked hard and showed them that I was a good leader, things would calm down. I was wrong, I could sense it. So one day in my second or third week on the job, I decided I needed to do something uncharacteristic to me. Not to hide my head in the sand, but instead try to define and understand the problem a group of my most senior staff seemed to have. I needed a higher vantage point. So I invited six of them for lunch.

So when all of us had received our plates, I didn’t resort to small talk, but asked them how they felt about my appointment to this job. I wanted to hear them out. It was like opening the flood gates. They all talked and I listened. I learned they had a deep concern: my appointment to this important job was a disaster for the Division. I was of the wrong gender and by all counts far too young and unexperienced. The only woman ever to hold this job before me had been very experienced, twenty years my senior, and she had failed miserably. And the youngest male who had ever held this job was forty when he started, ten years my senior. They asked me to withdraw from the job so it could be opened for a new search.

Wow! I certainly did not have the odds on my side. My first thought was to run – fast and far. But I didn’t. I decided to acknowledge their fear that I may not succeed. I also understood that they feared for their jobs as this was a time of “right sizing” in the company, many divisions were merged or abolished altogether. I told them that I believed I could succeed, but only if we all pulled together. I had a lot to learn. I also told them that I wanted six months to demonstrate that I was the right person for the job, that my only interest was the success of that division. If I was proven wrong, I would resign at that point. Anyone can survive for six months, so we had a deal.

Almost six months later, my Division held the customary semi-annual retreat to review progress and to plan for the future. Our day-long meeting was set in the beautiful Stockholm archipelago. I opened the meeting but before I even got to the agenda, one of these six people asked if she could say something before we started. She took the floor and told everyone in the Division about our lunch discussion. She told very bluntly and honestly what I had been told and how I had responded. While she was talking I observed amazement on many faces. Then she said that she and the others wanted to apologize to me publicly. And so we lived in harmony, survived as a Division and worked together successfully the next five years.

This conflict was the first one I had tackled head on in the workplace and it taught me many valuable lessons. I have since faced many other conflicts and helped to resolve countless ones. To me, the key ingredients to successfully resolve a conflict, whether in the workplace, in the family or between friends or neighbors, are the following:

  • Acknowledge the conflict as soon as it starts, when it has not yet had the time to grow and fester, and do not brush it under the rug;
  • Try to define the issue objectively, detach from the personalities involved as much as possible. A lot of hurt can be avoided if we are able to be objective and look at the issue and say here it is, this is what it looks like and then ask, with honest intentions to resolve the situation,  how do we find a new way of doing things, a way forward;
  • Listen attentively so that we actually hear the other party;
  • Acknowledge that the problem took its time to develop, so the resolution will also need to take its time;
  • Understand that sometimes only small steps can be taken to start with, instead of trying to resolve all of it in one go; and
  • Understand that particularly when the conflict has been allowed to escalate and bad things have already been said, forgiveness will need to be part of the solution.

I still don’t like conflict, but now I don’t hide or run from it. Once the issues have been resolved, and good intentions to follow through have been demonstrated, harmony and peace usually return in time. What is your experience?

Small Talk

Yesterday in my “thank you speech” I said that it’s not often I’m speechless. That’s true for the young me (read me now), but it was not true for the younger me. I was a clam, didn’t open my mouth much. Particularly not in public. When writing my post yesterday I vividly remembered the first ever occasion when I had to speak in front of an audience. I dreaded public speaking.

I was still in college, where I had successfully avoided speaking in front others. I would do the research and others would present. Team work was an excellent invention of the time.  Then I was lucky to get a summer job in a hospital in Stockholm. I was in their HR department and one afternoon I learned that a colleague had fallen ill. I was asked to take over her induction speech to new staff, about 20 or so doctors, nurses, receptionists and technicians. I was terrified. Not because I didn’t know the topics, but because I’d need to stand “up there” at the podium all alone and everyone would be listening to me. So many things could go wrong.

I sat up late that night drawing my “transparencies”, some of you may remember those. They were written using colorful markers. And then I couldn’t sleep, at all. The next morning I was tired, and even more frightened. I remember the huge knot in my stomach walking up the hill towards the hospital. By that time I was sure I could not get a word out of my mouth when standing in front of everyone. But of course I did. It didn’t go very well, I was searching for right expressions many times, but all in all the new staff got “inducted” that day. I discovered I can survive public speaking, even if barely.

Then later on when my career took off, I had to do it more and more often, but it didn’t mean that I mastered public speaking for many years. In particular, I remember my first time presenting a big project to the Board as a new manager in my early 30s. I had been given 45 minutes for the topic on the Board’s agenda so I prepared a presentation that would take 30 minutes, leaving 15 minutes to discussion and Q & A. That sounded like an excellent plan. While I still suffered from some stage fright, I felt quite well prepared. The butterflies were under wraps.

My topic was the last on the agenda, and when the meeting went on, I became more and more worried. They discussed the other topics for ever. When my time came, there was barely five minutes left of the scheduled meeting time. I started my presentation and spoke as fast as I could (think a New Yorker) and the transparencies flew on and off the projector. Five minutes into my presentation, our Managing Director who also was the Chair, interrupted me. He told me that I had exactly two minutes to come to conclusion. Two whole minutes? I had slides to go for more than twenty minutes! I tried to cut it short but was not able to finish…what a disaster.

On the top of everything, my Managing Director came to talk to me soon after the meeting. He told me that a professional was always prepared for surprises like this…and that the Board members actually could read. I didn’t need to read my points to them. Of course I knew that. I cried walking back to my office. But I also decided that this would not happen again. For the next year or so, I had three stacks of transparencies with me, one for a full session, one for half a session and one for the eventuality that I only got a fraction of the time originally given to me :).

My lesson from all this was that I had to be so confident in mastering the topic I would speak about that I could do any length of presentation and still make my points. By time this of course got better. Until the next obstacle. I had to speak in English. In the first year of using English as my working language, I would always miss my turn to speak in meetings. By the time I had thought what to say – and translated that in my mind, the meeting had already moved to the next topic! I wonder why they didn’t fire me, a total clam. Nothing to say, ever.

Somehow life teaches us these lessons and we acquire new skills as we go. I learned to let go, not to strive for perfection, and to forgive myself for occasional mishaps. I began to trust that the right words would find me and simply learned not to take myself too seriously. Then ended up earning much of my livelihood to date by speaking up and speaking loud about topics entrusted to me, many times using humor to reach my audience. But a small butterfly is still always fluttering there close by. I think it’s there just to help me focus.

So public speaking can definitely be learned even if one doesn’t have the natural gift of speaking or charisma that captivates people. That should be comforting.