5 Leadership Lessons from Every Penguin in the World

First things first: this post is about the recently published Every Penguin in the World by author and photographer Charles Bergman. The leadership lessons represent my take-aways from experiences that Bergman shares with readers, not some allegorical story (think, Kotter’s Our Iceberg is Melting). Let’s get started.

The full title of Charles Bergman’s book is Every Penguin in the World: A Quest to See Them All. And. YOU. NEED. To. See. Them. All. … Bergman narrates the journey—the adventures, the dangers, the sublime experiences—of his quest to see each of the unique species of penguin in their home environment. Through intentional design, the book offers an array of images to draw us into the spaces of our world’s penguins, balanced by the compelling story Bergman shares.

Leadership Lesson #1 – Identify Your Quest

My favorite of the online definitions for “quest” comes from vocabulary.com: “A quest is all about seeking something important, and it often involves a journey.” Bergman’s quest is clearly defined: “to see every one of the world’s eighteen species of penguins in the wild.” His was not one journey but several and, in some cases, to harsh and remote places most of us will never visit.

Consider what destination, discovery, or achievement is so meaningful and important that you are willing to invest time, effort, learning, and actual sacrifice for. A quest or “dream” must be clearly definable—you need to know what the endpoint looks like—and also be worthy of the difficulty you might encounter in the endeavor.

Bergman weaves what he learns and experiences within descriptions of the various penguins, their antics, their struggles, their environments. Through his eyes and interactions, we SEE the beauty and dignity, along with their curiosity and play. We are brought near to profound ritual in courtship, and determination in hardship.

Leadership Lesson #2 – Stay Present in the Experience

As a wildlife photographer, Bergman wants to capture the perfect shot. And Every Penguin has an abundance of amazing images. At the same time, his narrative clearly conveys the experiences leading up to and past those single moments in time.

Have you ever seen a parent so focused on getting a good picture of a child that he or she misses the event itself? While we want to maintain focus on our quest, staying present on our journey opens us to a range of life’s indelible moments.

Just as important as recognizing what delights us about penguins, is seeing the influence of human activity and challenges to the environments where these animals come from. Penguin populations—like honeybee colonies (although this connection didn’t come from the author)—are collapsing. Only direct intervention of those who study the species and choices we ourselves might make will determine the outcome of survival of penguin species.

Leadership Lesson #3 – See Deeply

Bergman and his wife literally held penguin chicks in their hands—as part of efforts to save an at-risk population. In the process of Bergman’s journey, the underlying lessons of the experience reveal the complexities of environmental conservation. He poses the question: are we willing to expend the effort to save a species from extinction?

Every quest is personal, even when the outcome is professional. It’s not enough to take in surface observations. If we’re on a quest, we need to contemplate the deeper meaning of our experiences and recognize any lessons we’re learning that might be relevant to share or important to act upon further.

Leadership Lesson #4 – Embrace the Suck

Ok, I admit to borrowing this particular turn of phrase from the military community. Bergman’s travels to view penguins in the wild led to truly life and injury threatening experiences. Despite harrowing and pain inducing mishaps, Bergman would be the first to say the journey was worth it.

For most of us, our quest will not traverse Antarctic landscapes or require fording rain-swollen rivers. What we will experience, however, are challenges. Acknowledge the discomforts, disappointments, and frustrations when things don’t go according to plan. As the military say, “embrace the suck.” Accept, learn, overcome, move on.

The narrative includes how Bergman embarked on his quest and his inspiration as a single specimen approached him and made an in-your-face inquiry, “who are you?” To share more on how this plays out might spoil your experience of the story. What I will say is that you’ll find something for every age in Every Penguin in the World. What I hope you see is both the joy and benefit of finding your own purpose in a meaningful quest.

Leadership Lesson #5 – Answer the Question: Who Are You?

Bergman describes a moment when knowing intersected with insight. He writes of the science identifying each individual penguin’s call as unique, juxtaposed with the experience of a specific penguin “calling” to him just inches from his face.

Who we are—our unique and essential self—embodies what’s important to us and what our purpose is. At times the “who we are” drives our journey. While I could have easily positioned this as Lesson #1, sometimes discovering what’s essential IS the journey.

I am often given an advance reader copy of a book in order to provide an honest review. When this is the case, I conclude any review with a disclaimer to let readers know. I only recommend books or products I believe have real value.

Reading Every Penguin, I’m grateful for Bergman’s willingness to take us along for his journey. On the front of the book cover appears a quote by Dr. Jane Goodall, “This is a book of joy, love, and hope for penguins and the world.” I agree. Bergman’s book offers a gift for all ages, from children who will find enchantment with the pictures, to students who might learn lessons of our planet, to adults who take inspiration from another’s courage to take on a quest of their own. There’s a story in Every Penguin in the World for all.

[Originally published on leadistics.com]

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