Leadership and management: Maverick Magpies and Predictable Pigeons

There is a myth that magpies are attracted to shiny, sparkly things. The myth says that they will even steal them. (In 2014 researchers at Exeter University disproved the idea that magpies are attracted to shiny things – but bear with me while I continue my metaphor). Creative swiping was a term coined by Tom Peters – who suggested that the best leaders will find great ideas and swipre or steal them for their own business. I thought about leadership and management: Maverick Magpies and Predictable Pigeons.

The good magpie

Some leaders have “Magpie syndrome” – an irrational affinity for shiny objects. They have a short attention span. They are curious. They like shiny new things. They are easily bored.

Curiosity is a vital attribute for those involved in many careers – marketing and selling amongst them. But you need to combine this curiosity with analytical skills and persistence to ensure that the right opportunities are identified, researched, planned and pursued.

In this fast-changing world, it is helpful to be attracted to new things. We need to recognise emerging trends, novel ideas, unusual approaches and different technologies. We need to examine them, assess them and adopt those that will help us achieve our aims.

The bad magpie

But there is a downside to the magpie. If you are constantly seeking new ideas, there’s a danger that some of the more routine but important tasks become neglected. There’s always a role for managing day-to-day operational stuff well and ensuring that the fundamentals are addressed.

Magpies are black and white – and often see things from that perspective. Whilst it’s admirably decisive, it may miss the important shades of grey that need consideration in important business decisions.

Magpies are often solitary. We all know the saying “One for sorrow, Two for joy…”. Solitary leaders may leave their troops behind.

So if you are a magpie – or you work for one – you need a balancing approach. Someone who focuses on the more routine and perhaps mundane aspects. Someone you can rely on to take care of business whilst you are off on your flights of fancy and adventures of discovery.

Enter the pigeon

Pigeons aren’t particularly attractive. Their grey plumage is unremarkable and blends into the City landscapes where they reside. There are a lot of pigeons. But I think pigeons are under-rated.

Homing instinct –  Pigeons are known for always coming home. They have map and compass sense to help them do this. A business needs a homing instinct – no matter where you travel to and what you explore, someone needs to remember where home is. Someone needs to remember the agreed strategy is – and to return to it – and guard against too many distractions which may take the business off-course for the wrong reason. Many talk of the North Star of a guiding strategy.

Messengers – Pigeons were used as messengers – providing a vital communication channel in wars. Those lone magpies can be uncommunicative. We need leaders and managers who communicate well – to engage everyone in the mission and to motivate people to do their job and achieve their objectives and potential.

Fast – But just because pigeons are solid and reliable doesn’t mean they are dull. Remember that kid’s show “Catch the pigeon” with Dastardly and Muttley? The bad guys spent their lives trying to catch, trap and stop the pigeon who always prevailed. Skillfully.

Flocks – Pigeons are sociable. They are quite happy in flocks or groups. We need team players in our businesses.

Nurturers – Pigeons nurture their young until they are at an advanced stage. You rarely see a baby pigeon – by the time they leave the nest they are mature and self-sufficient. It’s a good approach to succession in business – to nurture and prepare the next generation of leaders until they are ready to fly the nest safely.

Perhaps in business we should value great leadership teams – where the magpie plays alongside the pigeon.