Leadership Lesson from Aquila Chrysaetos (Eagle)

Yes, that’s what the scientists call him. We know him much simply as Mr. Eagle. Sharp, swift and strong – the eagle is a much-revered member of the family of our feathered friends.

Enshrined for eternity on the Great Seal of the United States, the eagle was chosen as the National Symbol of a country that offers freedom in both letter and spirit. No wonder that the sight of an eagle living amongst lofty mountains, sweeping down into deep valleys and soaring upwards into endless expanse, evokes a sense of boundless freedom.

In Indian mythology too, eagle is worshipped as Garuda – the official carrier of Lord Vishnu; his worship is believed to remove the effects of poisons from one’s body. Even the National Symbols of Indonesia (Garuda Pancasila) and Thailand (Krut Pha) are represented by eagles with outstretched wings.

If like a bird you would want to soar high in the corporate sky, which bird would you want to be? Chances are that you would choose to be an Eagle.

The eagle with its inimitable qualities is an inspiration for today’s corporate leaders. It can see across large distances, can spot a small prey from miles above and can gaze directly into the sun without being blinded. A leader with eagle’s vision can see the big picture, remain focused on small tasks and look adversity in the eye. The proud eagle is not a scavenger and does not eat prey killed by others. It hunts for its own food. Likewise, a leader has to create one’s own plans rather than depend on plans of others, and be confident of executing those plans.

As storms approach, lesser birds may head for cover, but the mighty eagle spreads its wings and mounts upon the powerful updrafts with a huge cry. It uses the storm to lift it to great heights. So do those leaders who face challenges head on rather than run away from them; only such leaders acquire glory and ascend with the growth of their organizations.

Though the eagle is known for its ferocity, there is no bird that tends more gently and cares more attentively for its young ones. At the appropriate time, the mother eagle begins to teach her eaglets how to fly. It is fascinating to observe this process. The mother gathers an eaglet onto her back, and spreading her wings, flies high. Suddenly, the mother swoops out from under the eaglet. As the eaglet falls, it gradually learns what its wings are for until the mother catches it once again on her wings. This procedure is repeated.

If the young one is cowardly or slow to learn, the mother returns him to the nest, and begins to tear it apart until there is nothing left for the eaglet to cling to. Thereafter, the mother eagle nudges him off the cliff. Learning from this, a leader must teach and train each member of the team with great passion and extra care so that each member becomes a leader.

Another notable feature is that the eagle has the longest life span of its species; it can live up to 70 years. But to reach this age, the eagle must make a hard decision. When it is the 40’s, the eagle’s long and flexible talons can no longer grab prey, which serves as food. Its long and sharp beak becomes bent. Also, its old and heavy wings, due to their thick feathers, become stuck to its chest and make it difficult for it to fly.

Now, the eagle is left with only two options – perish or proceed through a painful process of change. This process of change lasts 150 days, and requires that the eagle fly to a mountaintop and sit on its nest. There the eagle knocks its beak against a rock, until it plucks out the beak. After plucking it out, the eagle will wait for a new beak to grow back and then it will pluck out its talons. When its new talons grow back, the eagle starts plucking its old-aged feathers.

After five months, the eagle takes its famous flight of rebirth and lives for 30 more years. The patience and strength of character displayed by the eagle can teach organizations to constantly reinvent themselves by undergoing a process of complete transformation in order to keep their competencies alive in an ever-changing marketplace.

Once, a rabbit asked an eagle resting in a tree, “Can I sit like you and do nothing?” The eagle answered, “Sure, why not?” So the rabbit sat on the ground below the eagle and rested. Suddenly, a fox appeared, pounced on the rabbit, and ate it. The lesson is – to sit and do nothing, one must be sitting very, very high. Similarly, any organization or leader that is not the best in one’s field cannot afford to relax on one’s accomplishments.

So, if you want to bring to your office an excellent metaphor for leadership and resilience, can there be a better bird mascot that Mr. Eagle?

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