How Penguin Leadership Will Change Your Team Culture

This is a guest post by Sean Glaze, a team speaker and motivator. You can check out his blog, and follow him on Twitter. If you want to guest post on this blog, check out the guidelines here.

What do penguins have to do with leadership and changing your toxic team culture? More than you realize.

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/mlenny

The power of a few can influence the behavior of many. Leadership, as John Maxwell suggests, is really nothing more than influence.

Margaret Mead wrote that we should “never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. Indeed, that’s all who ever have.”

But when handed the reins of leadership and asked to turn around an organization that has been suffering from toxic team culture, it becomes difficult to keep Mead’s words in mind.

Whether you are a coach taking over a perennial loser, a new principal at a troubled school, or a manager promoted to a new position over a group with low sales numbers, there really is hope!

While I could point to another dry study or survey as evidence, the best illustration of how to change your team culture can be found at the San Francisco Zoo. A few years ago, something remarkable happened there that carries a leadership lesson for all of us.

It involved the behavior of forty-six birds that had been long-time residents of the zoo and the impact that a few transplanted birds had on the original group after they arrived. It happened in 2003, and the birds were penguins.

Penguins are supposed to swim. In fact, those original forty-six penguins had been taking regular leisurely dips in the pool to cool off occasionally and make sure their feathers remained sleek. Life was easy and un-challenging.

Imagine the forty-six of them lying around, eating, swimming, resting, and then repeating the process at a comfortable pace every day of their existence. Perhaps, it sounds much like some of the people in the organization you are intent on turning around. But things changed dramatically when six new penguins moved in from Ohio.

The newcomers, upon their arrival, jumped into the pool and swam. And they swam. And swam some more. In fact, the six penguins from Ohio kept swimming laps all day long. Day after day.

The zookeeper didn’t notice them squawking at or fighting with or nagging the original residents to join them or change their attitudes—they just went about their business of swimming around the pool.

The newcomers started early each morning and kept swimming in circles until they would stagger out of the pool, exhausted, at dusk. What was most amazing, though, is that those six penguins soon convinced the original forty-six to change their leisurely lifestyle and join them.

Before the Ohio penguins arrived, the San Francisco penguins had been lazy and comfortable. Soon, they were busy swimming the whole day long. What was the secret to the impact the Ohio penguins had?

Sometimes, the shock of a new idea or way of doing things inspires people to live up to others’ expectations and levels of performance. Given the chance, all penguins want to show their abilities, leadership skills, and penguin-hood.

Those six penguins from Ohio changed the lifestyle habits of the other forty-six entirely. The zookeeper was even quoted as telling reporters, “We’ve completely lost control.”

The impressive point was not that the forty-six penguins learned to swim, which they had always done as a pastime, but that they so quickly would change and go into aquatic terminator mode. The Ohio penguins motivated them to change their toxic team culture—and left us a few lessons:

  1. Be willing to try new ideas. This can shake up how people have done things in the past and lead to change.
  2. Changing others’ behavior is more about showing than telling. Penguins (and people) are less open to advice and suggestions than you would like to think. They need to see it and be given a challenge to live up to in order to change.
  3. Don’t give up.If six little penguins can turn a group of 46 lazy home-bodies into workout monsters, just imagine how you might influence the group that you have been assigned.Leadership truly is influence, and sometimes the most influential thing we can do is roll up our sleeves and work as hard as we want others to. Spend time sharing your vision, building relationships, and “swimming your laps in the pool” at your zoo. Pretty soon others will rise to the challenge and join you.

One of the best ways to forge better relationships, clarify your team vision, and build leadership or communication skills is with a team-building event where your people have the time and opportunity to grow together and experience challenges that prepare them to collaborate and learn from each other.

If you are looking to change the toxic team culture in your organization, or if you just need to give your people a chance to turn address a teamwork issue, the answer is often found in taking responsibility for what you can control: your own effort end example.

Team motivation is often the result of one person being bold enough to shake up the status quo with an extraordinary work ethic or enthusiasm that spreads to the entire group.

Andrew Jackson, our seventh president, is credited with saying, “One man, with courage, is a majority.” He became a national hero for his courage in the War of 1812, winning the battle of New Orleans despite being outnumbered and earning the nickname “Old Hickory” for his toughness.

Sometimes a country, team, or even a group of penguins find themselves in need of leadership that is willing to show the way instead of making demands.

By taking action and setting an example for others to emulate, you improve your culture, and give others permission to join the crusade, as well.

Question: What’s an example in which you’ve shown instead of told as a leader? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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  • http://jonstolpe.com/ Jon Stolpe

    I try to do this everyday.  I could think of many examples, but the best example is really just a simple act.  I try to pick up trash that might get accidentally left on the floor at the office.  I clean up the copy area when the paper seems to be overflowing when I walk by.  I fill the coffee machine when it’s empty after I get my morning cup of Joe.  As leaders, these simple things can make a big world of difference in our organizations.  When our team members see that these tasks aren’t too small for the managers, they become more conscious of there ability and responsibility to lend a hand whenever it’s required.

    • http://www.MicheleCushatt.com/ Michele Cushatt

      I just did this today with my little ones. We went for a short walk and picked up trash along the way. A small thing, but one that has potential for influence — in their lives and others.

      • http://runningwithhorses.wordpress.com/ Steve Hawkins

        Some kids are like walking video cameras, photographing everything their family does and then playing it back in their own lives. Practicing leadership and being the example to our kids is one way we can help them in their future endeavors. 

  • http://successbeginstoday.org/wordpress John Richardson

    Very interesting post, Sean. I’ve been in an organization called Toastmasters for over 15 years. Each year, clubs elect a new leadership team, including a new President, Education Vice President. and Membership Vice President. Seeing leaders come and go, I can say that the President’s role is probably the most important. They open each meeting and lead the direction of the organization.

    The President has one important mission above all else.

    The President needs to show up.

    They need to be there early and open each meeting.

    When this happens, the club flourishes.

    If not, the meetings start with excuses.

    Leaders lead by example.

    They need to show up!

  • http://www.godsabsolutelove.com/ Patricia Zell

    Thank you for this post, Sean. Change is hard for some of us, yet change can bring new energy to our lives and can motivate us to reach for the stars. The concepts you are sharing go beyond leadership into our daily lives of being and doing. In order to try new ideas, we have to be willing to let go of the security of the same old, same old stuff in our daily routines.

  • http://www.alslead.com/ Dave Anderson

    Early on I was promoted into a group of leaders that would rarely speak in meetings because they thought they’d be labeled as suck ups to the boss.  Therefore, there was little interaction.

    I chose to share.  Share.  And share some more.  At first I was labeled.  But when one of the more tenured people (I’ll call him Bob) said something directly to me my response was:  

    “Bob, I check my motivations before I say anything.  If I am tempted to say something that I truly think will make the team better, I’m going to share it.  If I discover I’m tempted to share it for selfish reasons like recognition from the boss, you won’t hear from me.  So if you hear me speak, the important thing is I know my motivations and now you do too.”

    It took a few years before everyone was sharing.  But, I did not stop despite the label I had early on.  The second guy to begin sharing, was Bob.  

    If I could have squeaked like a penguin I would have…Great illustration Sean.

    • http://www.greatresultsteambuilding.net/ Sean Glaze

      Hi Dave-

      I applaud your leadership… Courage is our most important trait, for without it we would not act on our ideas…  you had the courage to do and say what you knew was right, and your perseverance apparently paid off. 

      Thanks for sharing!

    • http://www.robsorbo.com/p/welcome-from-disqus.html Rob Sorbo

      That’s how us introverts can be sometimes–we won’t speak up right away in the meeting, but our gears our spinning the whole time. Once those crazy extroverts shut up for a few seconds, the introverts will usually speak up and bring the real wisdom!

      Just kidding of course…I probably need to share more, but it’s hard to not be drowned out. I wonder if the culture in your office had gotten that way because a large number of quite people joined the team.

      • http://www.alslead.com/ Dave Anderson

        That was funny.  I guess you know which type I am!

        In that situation, is more about a lack of trust for each other on the team than the personalities.  When people realize that everyone is just trying to make each other better, the give and take comes more easily for everyone, no matter if they are an extrovert or introvert.

        • http://www.robsorbo.com/p/welcome-from-disqus.html Rob Sorbo

          That’s true. I’ve been in meetings where everyone will quit talking as soon as they realize that a quiet person is about to speak up.

          • Christopher Miller

            As the new guy on the block in my organization, this happens to me. It seems that the room will go quiet when I speak. I wasn’t sure why this was but perhaps it’s because I only speak when I have something valuable for the team to hear instead of interjecting every 5 seconds like a character in a Woody Allen dinner scene.

  • http://www.SiaKnight.com/ Sia Knight

    I am constantly aware of this, even though this post serves as a good reminder. I believe that confidence follows competence. By showing the people that you lead that are plugged in and, in some cases, willing and able to perform their tasks, you inspire their confidence in your leadership.

  • http://www.ChristianFaithAtWork.com/ Chris Patton

    I would be interested to know how long it took before the lazy penguins began following the six.  I would bet it was not immediate.  

    I would add to your point #3 to remember the flywheel from Collins’ Good to Great.  You are right to say, “Don’t give up,” but after time (and no response) that can be hard.  

    If we will go in with the expectation that it is going to take a long time before “they” come around, then we are more likely to make it to the point when “they” join us.

    Great post, Sean!

    • http://www.alslead.com/ Dave Anderson

      Chris,

      I agree.  It is hard and was hard based on what I shared in my comment above.  I like the idea of starting out with a long term perspective.  

      The other thing is something my dad used to say to me:  “Hey bud (that’s what he called me when I was in trouble) if being a leader were easy, everyone would be doing it.”  

      Here is some info on my dad’s background: http://andersonleadershipsolutions.com/james-anderson/

      Dave

      • http://www.ChristianFaithAtWork.com/ Chris Patton

        Thanks for the link, Dave! I will have to check it out.

    • http://www.greatresultsteambuilding.net/ Sean Glaze

      Thanks for sharing, Chris!

      I think that any job you have is a “leadership position.” You do the right thing the right way because it’s the right thing to do… that others eventually join you is not your primary motivating factor, but a powerful and positive by-product of your efforts…

    • http://www.MicheleCushatt.com/ Michele Cushatt

      I wonder if it’s a matter of having more than a single incentive. If our only motive for establishing a new behavior is to get the others to follow suit, we’ll lose enthusiasm for it when time passes and no one follows. But if we have a secondary motivation, such as changing our behavior because of how it benefits us personally, then we have more fuel to continue “swimming laps” even when no one else joins us.

      • http://www.ChristianFaithAtWork.com/ Chris Patton

        Michele, I think you are dead-on.  I posted about this very idea here:

        http://christianfaithatwork.com/why-is-the-why-important/ 

        If we do not have the right “Why?” then we will likely quit too early.  Great insight!

      • http://cavemanreflections.blogspot.com/ Michael Mulligan

         Great point, Michele.  When the emphasis is focused on getting followers, there isn’t much incentive except maybe pride, however, when the focus is on the benefit of achieving the goal, one can swim as long as it takes to cross the finish line.  And the enthusiasm, or “in God” will shine like a bright light that attracts others to join the pursuit.  The spotlight should never be on the individual, but the goal.

  • http://twitter.com/mayankwrites Mayank Malik

    Hi Michael, Great read..especially liked your view on  changing others’ behavior by showing more than telling!

    Mayank:-)

  • http://www.skipprichard.com/ Skip Prichard

    Sean, what a terrific post. It only takes a few to impact many with consistent action. “Walking the walk” is so important. I think it’s the same with how we model behavior for kids. No matter what we “say” they are always watching what we “do.” Thanks for the great thoughts to start the day.

    • http://www.MicheleCushatt.com/ Michele Cushatt

       Skip, I kept thinking about my children as well. Great insight.

  • http://www.jozeca.missionsplace.com/ Jozeca Lathrop

    This is encouraging to me.  Since I am not a “leader” in my team but rather the newest to join (and since we are only 4, there is really no designated leader), it’s inspiring to be reminded that I can still be a part of changing our team culture. Coming in as the newbie (and from a culture very different from my other three teammates), I see things differently. I see some areas that are strong and some areas that need improvement. I can’t impose these, but I can model them. Thanks for the encouragement!

    • http://www.greatresultsteambuilding.net/ Sean Glaze

      Hi Jozeca!

      I think you are in a tremendously significant position, as you ARE the new blood that can either assume the status quo or share and spread your enthusiasm and insights to the others…

      Best wishes as you lead your team!

  • Skipp Machmer

    A huge part of our church is remaining outward focused. It is key for our people to see that our leaders are inviting people as well to come and see and hear the message. It is one thing to just tell them this. It is a whole other level when you share their story and champion that value to everyone, and they get to meet your friends or people you have invited. Nothing like adding HEAT TO OUR VALUES -Hybels. We try and always find ways we can show that our values matter not just telling them they matter.

  • http://www.kellycombs.com/ Kelly Combs

    I really enjoyed your post, Sean.  For me, the best example of show versus tell leadership is in evangelism. As  St. Francis of Assisi said,  “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.”

    • http://www.greatresultsteambuilding.net/ Sean Glaze

      I agree, Kelly. 

      I think we truly ARE what we repeatedly do…  excellence is a habit…  and the example of our behaviors must come before and establish the integrity of our words…

      thanks for your comment! 

      • http://www.kellycombs.com/ Kelly Combs

        Absolutely, Sean.

        We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit. ~ Aristotle

      • http://www.alslead.com/ Dave Anderson

        The book “Character is Destiny” by Russell W. Gough  uses Aristotle’s premise that Kelly shares below.  This is also the premise that my father based his whole philosophy of character building on.  

        Great thoughts are universal.  They more people who think them and communicate them, the better society will be.  Thanks Sean.

  • http://cavemanreflections.blogspot.com/ Michael Mulligan

    I have an example for you, Sean…when I first joined the “penguins” at my new job in San Diego, I was a transplant from the Phoenix “zoo” with no official title or leadership position, even though I was a team leader at my old job.  I really had no desire to change the culture; overall, it was “pretty good.”  I knew the potential was much greater and I set out to feed my family, just like the Ohio penguins in your story.

    At first, the other penguins resented me.  I kept swimming, finding new customers.  Soon, our office was filled with penguins who transformed from surfing in the early afternoon to serving customers until long after sunset.  Our team became the flagship in a company of 4,000 reps who worked in offices all over the country.  Everyone wanted to be a penguin on the elite San Diego team.   There were no boundaries as commissioned penguins and we reached levels of pay that far exceeded senior management, which created a new problem at the zoo.

    One day, the suits running the zoo decided we were a bunch of overpaid penguins and told us, “monkeys could do our jobs for a lot less money.”  So my elite group of penguins built our own zoo and departed to compete.  The suits became jealous and told the penguins who stayed behind that anyone caught saying the name of our new company, “Zoom,” would be fired on the spot.  The orphaned penguins started calling us “Mooz,” so they could keep their job at the zoo.  Unfortunately for them, all 4,000 penguins eventually got laid off.  7 years later, our penguins are still swimming.  We opened up two other cities and adopted some penguins who lost their jobs when the suits closed all their zoos nationwide.  Now these penguins are working again; they own their own zoos in Salt Lake City and Las Vegas.

    I no longer swim in the San Diego zoo, although I still remain one of the owners on the partner team.  I’m in the Midwest now, searching for a new pool to swim in.  I learned that toxic environments can be changed, not by wearing fancy suits and showing off corporate name tags.  All you have to do is jump in and swim.  And if management becomes jealous because you’re having too much fun and making too much money, jump out of the pool and go build your own zoo.  The world needs more penguins who are willing to swim.  Thanks for a great post, Sean.  You definitely struck my penguin nerve.

    • http://www.greatresultsteambuilding.net/ Sean Glaze

      Wow, Michael- what a tremendous story to support and illustrate the article.

      Thanks for sharing, and congrats on having the faith and initiative to swim!

      • http://cavemanreflections.blogspot.com/ Michael Mulligan

         Sean, I’m following you now on Twitter so I can read more of your stories.  This is an important lesson and you did a great job.

        • http://www.greatresultsteambuilding.net/ Sean Glaze

           Thanks, Michael!

          I have a number of teamwork resources on my website as well
          http://www.greatresultsteambuilding.net/resources

          looking forward to sharing information and learning from you also!

  • Heather Goodwill

    Thank you so much for this post! I was feeling very discouraged today about my responsibilities and this encouraged me! 

    • http://www.MicheleCushatt.com/ Michele Cushatt

       This is so good to hear, Heather. How did the rest of your day go? Better?

  • http://www.feedingnineonadime.com/ Jeniferharrod

    This was a great post! Our new pastor is this kind of leader and he is finding lots of opposition but he still continues to lead on. I am proud of him he works so hard and has such a sweet additude all the while although he is tough as nails as well. One day we will all look back adn see the major role he played in the success of our church if we never give up!

  • http://www.robsorbo.com/p/welcome-from-disqus.html Rob Sorbo

    I have been on a team that did this. Four of us were hired to join a larger team (our team and the larger team were contracted by different organizations, so we were peers in every aspect, except our bosses were different). This other team had the reputation of being very lazy, sitting around, multiple 30+ minute smoke breaks, 2+ hours paid lunches, surfing the internet all day, and being very rude when they were asked to do work (there were a few big, scary people on that team…I think they had made threats, which is why they didn’t get fired).

    Well, my team of four came in and saw that the office was in total disrepair after years of being maintained by a team that didn’t care. We got to work, cleaned up the place, and fixed broken equipment. Almost immediately the team of slackers got to work too, and the whole office changed! 

  • Margaret

    when my sons were growing up instead of lecturing them on the dangers of drinking and driving,  I’d cut out newspaper articles about alcohol related accidents and tape them on the kitchen cupboards  for them to read – I’d also tape stories of kindness and compassion, people helping people – every night around the dinner table one of them would mention the story and we’d have a great discussion about it…at 22 and 25, they still recall some of those articles.

    • http://www.greatresultsteambuilding.net/ Sean Glaze

      Excellent point, Margaret…

      The best sermons are lived, not preached…

  • http://www.facebook.com/Andysimmonsisme Andy Simmons

    This is an awesome post.  There is so much truth in this.  People really do respond when a good leader sets the standard from leading by example (as well as penguins).  What an amazing example illustrated in this post! 

     One may consider it an advantage that they do not have the ability to speak.  The only way for them to have influence is through their actions.  It makes me wonder how different the world would be if humans were not able to speak, and  if we were forced to influence one another only by action.  Obviously, the penguins have taken advantage of it. 

    • http://www.jmlalonde.com Joe Lalonde

       Interesting thought Andy. I think people would be much more mindful of the actions they take. Knowing everything you’re doing is saying something you would have to be.

  • http://www.leadtoimpact.com/ Bernard Haynes

    Great post Sean. It reminded me of when I had my first leadership role in an organization. I was promoted to Plant Manager leading about 45 people. When I first started morale and productivity were low due to a lot of factors.  I  began by working on the floor learning the jobs and processes. When the people saw that I was interested in them and their jobs, morale and productivity turned around. It did not happen overnight, but after a time of consistent and committed effort our company experienced phenomenal change. Sean, I agree that when leadership is willing to show the way instead of making demands, people will get on board to make things happen.

    • http://www.greatresultsteambuilding.net/ Sean Glaze

      Bernard- thanks so much for sharing…

      You bring up a very important point…  morale and productivity are the symptoms of people being challenged, feeling a part of something bigger than themselves, and feeling appreciated for their contributions.

      I think your efforts provide the challenging boost to expected performance, but your relationships and encouragement are important as well…

  • Dr. Bob Weger

    I appreciate this article.  I believe we indeed do carry more influence than most people realize.  Hey just one person can truly influence the world, oh wait He already has.   That man being Jesus Christ.   Thanks for the challenge.

    • http://www.jmlalonde.com Joe Lalonde

       Exactly Bob! Too often we discredit what one person can do. All it takes is taking the first step. What if everyone took the first step like:

      Mother Teresea
      Rosa Parks
      Steve Jobs
      Martin Luther King Jr

      ?

  • http://www.tnealtarver.wordpress.com TNeal

    Yesterday the JV baseball players warmed up before practice. The rule is, during catch, if you drop a ball, you and your throwing partner do 10 pushups. One of the players said, “Hey, coach, do you want us to all to do them together when anyone messes up?”

    I said, “Jory, it’s your team. What do you want to do?”

    He yelled down the line, “We’re all doing pushups as a team.”

    Didn’t take long before someone dropped a ball. A few guys grumbled the first time about needing to warmup, not waste time, etc.

    Within a few dropped balls, everyone just hit the ground, did their ten, and popped back up without complaint.

    One player had an idea, implemented it, got resistance, then cooperation.

    • http://www.ChristianFaithAtWork.com/ Chris Patton

      Awesome example, Tom!

      • http://www.greatresultsteambuilding.net/ Sean Glaze

        I agree, Chris-

        And I am most impressed that as a leader, Tom gave the athlete the opportunity to take ownership and make the decision himself to influence his peers… 

        • http://www.ChristianFaithAtWork.com/ Chris Patton

          No doubt.  I continue to be more and more impressed with Tom.  First, I found his blog – A Curious Band of Others. Then I read his book – Dark Eyes, Deep Eyes. Both are great reads!

          Now I see that he is coaching JV baseball!  What else is next?!?!

  • http://twitter.com/andrewstark andrewstark

    Hi Sean

    It’s so true that just simply telling people to change will have no effect. A good leader should know the difference between an Ohio penguin and a San-Francisco penguin.

    By using a secondment they can swap some penguin’s around and then ask for feedback on what they have experienced in the new surroundings.

    Lastly it’s worth pointing out that just because the Ohio penguin’s are more active it doesn’t mean they will be better at doing the job in hand – entertaining the public.

  • http://www.jmlalonde.com Joe Lalonde

    One of our youth group staff members has a young daughter. He coaches a varsity team of girls and the young daughter is not old enough to be on that team. And yet he brought her to the practice.

     Instead of sitting around and doing nothing, she started participating with the varsity girls. She would run the drills, play catch, and do the exercises. She determined that she would play as well as the older girls.

    This motivated the other girls to step up their game. The girls practiced harder than before and improved their game. All due to one little girl.

    • http://www.greatresultsteambuilding.net/ Sean Glaze

       Hi Joe! 

      So glad that you shared…  I would imagine that some of your adventures as an explorer could provide illustrations as well.

      But this is a perfect point you offer – the easiest thing for any of us to do is to sit on the sidelines and just let things be…  to take the initiative and do something unexpected is powerful!

  • Senthil Balakrishnan

    Great article, example conveyed the message very precisely. 

  • http://talesofwork.com/ kimanzi constable

    Great post Sean, I especially like points number one and three. We really can’t give up, there’s too much of that going on already!

    • http://www.greatresultsteambuilding.net/ Sean Glaze

       Thanks, Kimanzi!

      Perseverance would be so much easier if it wasn’t for all that darn doubt and adversity… (Ha!)  I think the key to most any plan involves #3, though…  and trusting our instincts about what the “right thing to do” is.

  • http://twitter.com/eccle0412 Jackie Anderson

    Who am I influencing? Who is influencing me? Great post.

    • http://www.MicheleCushatt.com/ Michele Cushatt

       Two great questions, Jackie. Thanks.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Nigel-Kelly/565389967 Nigel Kelly

    The portion that struck me the most about the story of the penguins was their focus on the task rather than on convincing the other penguins to join. The goal for the penguins was not to have the others follow, the goal was to swim. I find myself getting into trouble when my main focus is on getting everyone else to join in on achieving the goal rather than focusing on the goal itself. I find this especially true in spiritual matters. My responsibility is obedience to God. God changes other peoples’ hearts. It seems to me when I focus on my goal, my task, my responsibility it is more likely that others will join along than when I focus on someone else achieving their goals their tasks and meeting their responsibilities. 

    • http://www.greatresultsteambuilding.net/ Sean Glaze

       Nigel-

      Great points. 

      If we are focused on doing the right things the right way for the right reasons, I think that inspires others.  Our focus should not be on the other penguins, but on purposeful and passionate performance… and that is something others will want to emulate as I believe people are easily bored with comfortable convenience…

      I think people crave a sense of purpose and challenge and teamwork.  We follow those who act on their beliefs, to feel a part of something more significant…

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  • http://runningwithhorses.wordpress.com/ Steve Hawkins

    Many years ago, I moved from the blue-collar world to a white-collar job, operating a customer help desk. There were a lot of things in an office environment that I didn’t understand, and I made a lot of mistakes. My manager often pointed out my mistakes, but never taught me how to navigate in this new world and do my job at an optimum level. 

    One month into the job, I met Tom, the division manager, during a department meeting. He was three levels of management above me and had many direct reports who bowed in his presence (Tom was Japanese), but he reached out and treated me as an equal. I didn’t know why he did this because it eventually caused hostilities with my manager and others in the office. But in our weekly meetings together, he taught me how to communicate with customers, communicate field issues with engineers in Japan, and perform my tasks with excellence. As a result of communicating field issues effectively to corporate engineers, our products improved over a short length of time. 

    What I remember the most about Tom is that he instilled courage in me–to take chances and perform at a level that was well above my competence. When I didn’t know to do something, he said, “Just try and give it your best effort.” His leadership made all the difference in my life. When he eventually moved back to Japan, I found the courage to go back to school, get a Masters degree in another field, and start a new career using some of the skills he taught me. 

    Tom was the penguin who swam in the pool. And once I got into the pool, it made all the difference. 

    • http://www.greatresultsteambuilding.net/ Sean Glaze

       Steve-

      What a terrific example.  The value f a “Tom” in our lives cannot be understated. 

      I imagine your decision to “swim” in the pool has undoubtedly inspired others as well… 

  • http://www.geekywriter.com/ Romy Singh

    Hi Sean,

    Really very insightful and interesting story. I like six penguins for their influence and their work. changing people is not easy, it’s kind of very big deal. Changes are really hard to adopt, but it’s one certain rule of life.

    We have to change if we want to be a better, productive, creatives and smart worker. We have to test new things, learn new things to change ourself and this article shows me some way to change my self. So thank you for that.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jon-W-Hansen/1065641051 Jon W. Hansen

    Brave penguins to be certain . . . reminds me of an article I read not that long ago about taking the risk to stand out from the crowd . . . a particularly liked the corresponding Far Side cartoon (http://wp.me/p1XSrf-7N).

    • http://www.greatresultsteambuilding.net/ Sean Glaze

       Appreciate you sharing, Jon-

      and that Far Side cartoon is one of my favorites!

  • http://nowbizgrowth.com/ Les Dossey

    Sean,

    Brilliant use of analogy and metaphor to teach.

    Only the Best,

    Les Dossey
    Now Business Growth
    http://nowbizgrowth.com

  • Darryl Calhoun

    I am posting as a TRDV student at Roosevelt University (www.rutraining.wordpress.com).
    I have been engaging my Supervisor in a movement to change the culture of our office and revamp the leadership. Nothing motivates a person more-or at least gets to them to begin reflecting-like an analogy such a this one. I shared this with her in anticipation that it will underscore my point better than the statistics and reading that I have given her in the past. Is it possible that we have gotten too much into the science and politics of human dynamics and the capacity to change, and gotten away from the simple real life everyday examples.

    • http://www.greatresultsteambuilding.net/ Sean Glaze

       Thanks, Darryl!

      Best of luck with your office culture… and yes – I agree that sometimes a simple example speaks far more than any arguments.

  • http://brandonweldy.wordpress.com Brandon Weldy

    When I started youth ministry I learned mostly by watching. It’s true that I was taking classes in Bible college but much of what I really learned was from volunteering to help with a Jr. High youth group and I watched the man who had been doing this for years as well as his other volunteers. 

  • http://www.pmhut.com/ PM Hut

    The “Penguin” leadership style takes some time,  but it always leaves an everlasting impression on the others.

    I started working in an office where everyone used to come late (the first person arrived at 9:30 and the last person arrived at 10:00 – official hours were 9 to 5).

    I started coming in early, arriving at 8:55 every day to the office. In a couple of weeks, the person who used to come at 9:30 started coming on time. Now when I arrive to the office at 8:55, I’m the last one in!

    • http://www.greatresultsteambuilding.net/ Sean Glaze

       Good point… 
      Things don’t always happen as quickly as we would like, but eventually, ither we influence others or they influence us…

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  • http://LeadershipPerformanceTips.com/ Rob Moore

    This is a very entertaining and interesting way of putting leadership. I have been in many situations personally when I was asked to go in and straighten out some pretty toxic environments and this story articulates a very similar way to how  I was able to turn every one of them around.

    • http://www.greatresultsteambuilding.net/ Sean Glaze

      Thanks for your comment, Rob! 

      While it must have been a challenge to go into situations as the “Ohio” penguin,  there is also a great deal of pride in helping others raise the bar and improve when you persevere and influence others to join you…

  • hughballou

    Great advice. Thanks for sharing