The bald eagle has been a symbol of leadership, excellence, and freedom ever since the second National Congress selected it as America’s national bird in 1782. The eagle’s characteristics of remarkable vision, life-long commitment, and the ability to soar higher than any other bird make the designation quite fitting. Since eagles make soaring look easy, let’s consider three flight lessons for leaders.
Flight Lesson #1
Take-off : The importance of lift.
I’ve had quite a few opportunities to observe eagles. My home is on acreage overlooking a pond in North Florida. It seems as if there must be some kind of sign for feathered friends that reads, “Rest Area Ahead”, as we get an extraordinary variety of fowl passing through. Visitors include many species of ducks as well as swans and eagles. The eagles always arrive in pairs and as I watch with binoculars, I’ve been surprised at how much time they spend on the ground. So how does a large bird with a 7 foot wing span get momentum and lift? They take off into the wind. The resistance actually works on their behalf to get them off the ground. This principle of taking off straight into a headwind applies to airplanes and people too.
Leaders learn to leverage resistance and recognize it as a normal part of growth. It is unrealistic and counterproductive to expect calm and peaceful conditions when launching an idea, navigating change, or moving to the next level. The key is realizing that resistance can be your ally – it can be a lifting place to a higher elevation.
Flight Lesson #2
Eagles are known to build their nests in lofty places. It’s fascinating to observe the large nests perched in aeries. Since baby eagles are perched in high places, they can’t hop around on the ground like sparrows when learning to fly. They learn to fly through free-falling from the nest and flapping like crazy until the adult eagle swoops under and lifts them back into the nest. This process is repeated until they learn to use their wings effectively. I’ve always loved the words of Edward Teller: “When you get to the end of all the light you know and it’s time to step into the darkness of the unknown, faith is knowing that one of two things shall happen: either you will be given something solid to stand on, or you will be taught how to fly.” That’s called a faith drop – stepping off into the unknown with the faith that it will work out. A faith drop is feeling the fear and doing it anyway is called courage. That’s what leaders do. The most effective leaders are excellent at teaching others to fly.
Flight Lesson #3
It’s necessary to dump extra baggage for balanced flight. I’m not sure weight distribution is much of an issue for eagles. But for airplanes and people it’s a big deal. Large aircraft have numerous checks and balances to adjust the pitch of the plane for safe and successful flight. I have been on prop planes where baggage and people were moved around before take-off. It’s disconcerting yet necessary. Fear and worry are weights that can cripple the ability of any leader to make clear decisions and operate at peak performance.
Airplanes are inspected regularly for stress cracks. It would be interesting if leaders were required to make regular adjustments to alleviate stress. The reality: no one is going to do this for you. It’s exceedingly dangerous to wait to make changes until after a crash occurs. It might be in the form of illness, relationships breaking apart, or some other undesirable outcome. Flight that is not properly managed gets out of control and becomes a dance with disaster. Take the time to rest, refresh, and unload your cares.
Eagles make soaring look easy. Savvy leaders might make their role look easy. Don’t be fooled – it takes preparation and vigilance to operate at high altitudes.
Credit: This message was inspired by a message by Pastor Jim Laffoon delivered to Destiny Worship Center. His message was in a different context entirely, but the three flight lessons are from Jim. I want to give credit where credit is due!