Leadership Lessons From Nature

October 16, 20232 minutes to read

There are many amazing frameworks for design leadership published to learn from: Four quadrants, Ikigai People Management, Five Ps, Servant Leadership Theory... I don't want to just reframe the great work that has been shared already. My addition to the conversation is sharing some lessons from nature that have inspired and informed my approach to design leadership.

Killer Whales

orcinus orca


Leadership for Orcas is built around strong mentorship and collaboration. Orca pods are matriarchal, governed by the eldest and wisest female of the family. These matriarchs spend a lot of their time passing on their skills to younger orcas.

Grandma teaches young Orca a complex language that is unique to each pod, valuable hunting locations and techniques, sharing, and even child-rearing. Post-menopause grandma orcas take on babysitting duties while Mom hunts.

Orcas even practice strong cross-functional collaboration when they link up different pods into "super-pods" to hunt large game.

African Lion

panthera leo


Lions show leadership of their pride by providing security and [psychological] safety. Dominant male lions are responsible for leading and defending the pride's territory, cubs, and resources.

Male lions may have a reputation as being lazy because they hunt far less than females, but they have a job to create the environment in which production can happen. They must fight continually and vigorously for the security of their team. The distinctive mane around a male lion is to protect him from other lions.

Business leaders need to advocate and protect their teams, although it's slightly less bloody to secure an education budget for a team than to fight off a hyena.


apis mellifera


Bees are totally sweet (see what I did there). These industrious little insects provide a lesson in distributed decision-making. Honey bees are considered a "superorganism" because the total ability of the swarm is greater sum of their parts as individuals. Bee collaboration depends on clear roles & responsibilities distributed across the entire swarm.

Honeybees rotate through different jobs – from nurse to cleaner to guard to forager – throughout their lives. Each successive generation learns from its ancestors. The queen bee isn't giving them directions; yet they each understand how they're role fits into a larger picture.

What are some lessons you've learned from Science or Nature? I'd love to learn more.