Leadership Lessons from Butterflies

– Kate Berg

There have been so many “stars” who have written on the subject of leadership. I started back years ago reading the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. Then I moved on to How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. Good to Great, Extreme Ownership and Team of Rivals top my list of favorites. I just didn’t expect to spot leadership qualities in a field of wildflowers. Yet, it happened.

Simply by accident I stumbled on some facts that I didn’t know about butterflies. I was taking pictures of some butterflies enjoying a morning feast in a patch of wildflowers. I was able to get amazingly close to them and found them to be very tolerant of me. They really took no notice of me at all. I admit that I don’t know what actually frightens a butterfly, but I guess I don’t qualify.

I began to study those butterflies and what initially seemed to be just some random flying and feasting, took on more the shape of cooperating and working together. There were several different kinds of butterflies in the small patch of flowers. I saw a Western Tiger Swallowtail. There was a Cloudless Sulphur and the Common Sooty Wing. There were others, but those are the only three I could name. What was inspiring, is that in the beauty of their diversity they all worked around each other as if they had boundaries or respect for the other’s personal space. Unlike hummingbirds, these butterflies were not “fighting” for their opportunity. I have several hummingbird feeders and I’m here to tell you watching them is like watching aerial combat…well, I guess it kind of is just that. The butterflies, however, were just gracefully taking their time and their turn. There seemed to be no competition. They didn’t seem to notice the differences in appearance or style of flight.

What leadership qualities did I see while watching those butterflies?

  • Invested in the project, the butterflies took full ownership of their responsibility. Each of them focused on the job and didn’t allow either the other butterflies, or my presence, to slow them down or interfere with the task at hand. It appeared they were showing off their best work in spite of being observed. Leaders take ownership. Investing in training grows an effective leader.
  • Excellent communication with each other. Although the butterflies were not talking, they were definitely communicating. They moved respectfully from flower to flower without interrupting each other. They seemed to flow as if they had been choreographed. Leaders know that communicating effectively is the only way to maximize understanding.
  • Encouraged productivity by their actions. Because they took their job seriously they were at their best. It was easy to see – from one butterfly to the next – that they were being very productive. No slackers in that crowd. Leaders maximize their time to get the most out of each work day.
  • Embracing diversity because no two butterflies are exactly the same. This diverse team worked together to create the perfect social inclusion environment. Leaders embrace differences. Since different cultures and experiences bring different views to bear, it makes sense to embrace difference and gain from a shared knowledge base. Leaders draw strength by allowing diversity to bring cohesion to the team.

The life span of many butterflies is only about 2 weeks. Migrating butterflies live as long as 9 months. Even with the limited time to get the job done they didn’t seem to be fretting or fighting to finish and win. They did what needed to be done with grace and focus.

One last thing they did like a leader – they finished what they started. These butterflies were created with all of the skills they need to perform and complete their job. Leaders aren’t created with that same complete skill set. Leaders form habits from things they have learned. They take training to the next level by performing those learned behaviors every time the opportunity presents itself.

Leaders aren’t born – they are created. It takes great training to create great leaders.