The leadership influence of the butterfly

Posted by hualoon 0 Comments

I believe that there are three common perspectives to leadership which fall upon a continuum:

  • Control
  • Fate
  • Influence

On the one end of the scale, we can choose to be authoritative leaders, keeping ourselves close as we seek to control and manage every single detail. One problem is that when we are so close to the situation, we often miss the bigger picture of life. And what about the leader-follower relationship? The control leader’s favourite song – “When I say jump, you say how high.”

Meanwhile, on the other end of the spectrum, we can choose to be fatalistic leaders, just sitting back and giving ourselves up to fate, chance and error. As the fate leader’s favourite song goes, “Que Sera, Sera, whatever will be, will be”, they are always just hoping for that “miracle” to happen.

Somewhere between these two is what I believe as the influence leader. The influence leaders seek to impart long-lasting change in the lives of their followers through wise and timely motivational influence. Influence leadership works at the level of creative motivation between the leader and the follower, as dependent upon the situation.

Now what do all these have to do with the butterfly?

Butterflies – inspiring poets across the ages with their beauty and freedom of flight… seemingly living without a thought or care of their former lives as caterpillars? Yet I believe that it is a common misconception of the butterflies’ parenting skills that we think of them as taking no part at all in the care of their young caterpillars.

While butterflies may never stick around to nurture the caterpillars as they grow – understandably also since the lifespan of the butterfly is short – the butterflies have already done as much as they could for the caterpillars.

Each species of butterfly will only lay eggs on the correct plants. Some will only use a single kind of plant, and then only lay the eggs where the leaf is growing in the right place with plenty of sun, or where there is less likelihood of the caterpillars being eaten. Moreover, the female butterfly will taste for the presences of certain important chemicals in the plant with her feet before carefully choosing the correct leaf to lay her eggs. This is important for the survival and growth of the caterpillar as its food is very specific.

Sometimes butterflies can make serious mistakes. The West Virginia White butterfly normally lays its eggs on toothwort plants, but the Garlic Mustard plant has been accidentally introduced into the woods where it lives. The butterflies sometime confuse between the plants, and the females lay their eggs on the foreign Garlic Mustard. The caterpillars are poisoned and die.

Even with the right place to hatch, many caterpillars do not survive until adulthood. Caterpillars have many challenges to face as they grow and undergo the final metamorphosis into a butterfly. This depicts the lack of control the butterflies have over the survival of their species, yet that never stops them from doing the best they can.

While butterflies do not give over to fate for the growth of the caterpillars, neither do they seek total control. The butterflies instead do what’s best that they can to ensure an ideal environment to positively influence the caterpillars’ growth. And I believe that both butterfly and caterpillar are much happier this way.

What is your leadership style?

How can you apply these principles of control, fate and influence in our leadership?

From the ant to the zebra… from the acacia to the zucchini… there are so many lessons that we can learn from animals and plants about growing our character and leadership strengths. 

Join us on an amazing journey of discovery and reflection with our Leadership of Nature™ series as we see and hear inspirational stories from nature, as well as put to practice life changing applications for success in our lives!

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(article by Ling Hua Loon:

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