Followership Encouragement

Honk! Honk! Honk!

I learned recently from a friend that geese in flight–in their famous “flying V” formation–honk almost continuously for a very definite purpose: encouragement & cooperation.

They honk to communicate, to ensure that each individual is keeping the correct speed and distance so that their formation is maintained (–which is a necessity for efficiently and effectively completing their migratory patterns. In performing the flying V, the entire flock benefits from the conservation of energy by drafting on the others, rotating their positions to share the burden and the benefit equally.


There is a model for us here containing some very poignant advice as we engage in excellent followership.

Followership is about relationship, cooperation, contribution, working together toward a common purpose. In order for this to happen successfully, two things are essential: communication and encouragement.

I rarely see geese look over their shoulders while flying. Instead, they communicate in order to know where each other is instantly. I don’t know if aerial stunt groups like the Red Arrows or Blue Angels even have such an accurate way of continuously being in contact with and knowing the position of their fellow group members.

Geese in the front can communicate about intended changes of direction, perhaps due to a sighted hazard or sensing a thermal airflow. Geese in the back can offer ‘words’ of direction and correction if one member has fallen slightly out of alignment and is throwing off the overall group’s progress.


But communication serves an additional purpose. It’s not just statements of “here I am” or “here’s what we’re doing”, but it’s encouragement to the other geese.

Having lived in China for a few years, I picked up a common phrase: “jia you” (jah yo). It literally means “add oil” but is used anywhere a little affirmation is needed. Whether you’re rooting for your favorite sports team or urging a train up a steep incline, these words of encouragement are always apropos.

My wife has even taken to soliciting these words from me when she’s undertaking a difficult task. She’ll simply say, sometimes in a near-whimper, “Tell me…”–and I’ll respond with a resounding “jia you!” to buck her up and urge her on.


The geese encourage one another to just keep flying, to take advantage of the group’s efforts, to offer to rotate the formation when one bird gets fatigued. They encourage the geese up front by reminding them that those in the back of the formation are still there, keeping up, on board with what the group is doing.

At this point, perhaps I’ve anthropomorphized this phenomenon to its limit, but we are ultimately talking about people. If the geese have figured out how to cooperate and follow with excellence–by continual use of communication and encouragement–then we humans have little excuse not to make the same effort in our group endeavors.


So when you’re wondering how to improve things in the workplace, how to get a stagnant committee functioning again, or trying to find out where you can contribute, remember the flying V. Honk a little. Communicate. Offer encouragement. And keeping flapping your wings diligently.

Honk! Honk! Honk!


You might also like:

Excerpt: Followership is Relationship

A Necessary Contribution

We weren’t born to follow”?

EF_CoverOrdering Info for Embracing Followership: How to Thrive in a Leader-Centric Culture

Links to other posts on this site: Blog Post Archive

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