“Leaders provide direction and protection.” That’s a quote from Cesar Milan, who is the best dog trainer (he would say psychologist) in the world. I highly recommend his books and tv series. He regularly works with dogs that other trainers have given up on, and he consistently wins their trust and respect. He says this about dog packs, but it’s a great universal definition of what a leader does.
Leaders are a feature of social mammals. Elephants, dolphins, and wild pigs have leaders. Turtles, sharks, and owls don’t have leaders. Do crows or ants? Maybe, but I don’t think so.
A solider ant protects a nest and its travel routes. When shit hits the fan they dive in to fight for the colony. But when times are good do they provide direction for the colony? Not really.
Crows (or corvids in general) teach each other tricks for getting food. They work together to fight off intruders. There is power in the collective. But I haven’t seen evidence that they have individuals who are day-to-day leaders of a tight-knit flock.
Leadership isn’t about power. Nature generates power imbalances. It isn’t about roles and seniority. It’s about sacrifice and stepping up for a group. They make the group stronger. When times are good, they create more leaders.
What are the features of a well led group?
There are good feelings. It feels good to do what the group is doing.
There are several leaders. The qualities are contagious.
Individuals feel like the leader(s) has their back.
There’s shared belief, even if it’s as simple as “we believe that our direction will lead to good things, and if bad things happen, we believe we are protected from serious harm”.
Leaders raise the level of the group. They balance focus and discipline with joy. They put others first.
Authority figures are a dime a dozen. Great leaders are a rare gift.