The Dodo’s Problem for Leaders

[May 3, 2020]  For hundreds of thousands of years, flightless Dodo birds lived on the volcanic island of Mauritius.  Without the threat of predators, the main competition for food was other Dodo birds.  They thrived in that environment until Dutch sailors arrived in 1598.  Within 80 years, these birds were extinct.  The Dodo’s problem was isolation from the competitive dynamics of other ecosystems.

There was no effective response to the creatures the Dutch introduced on the island.  Pigs, monkeys, and dogs feasted on the Dodo eggs in unprotected nests.  We normally think that the Dodo was a weak and stupid creature, unfit for a harsh world.  Yet it was perfectly suited to the survival requirements of its environment.

There is a lesson we can learn from the Dodo.

Ideas about the world also exist in a sort of evolutionary system.  This system provides competitive pressures, driving weak ideas into extinction and improving the fitness of those ideas that survive.  Ideas that are subject to strong competition with other ideas are usually more resilient, logical, and mature.

Effective leadership, like ideas, also demands competition.  I’ve often said that leadership is hard, complex, and uncertain (see links here and here).  Leadership can mean sailing into uncharted waters and experiencing new, difficult problems to solve.  A good example is the global Coronavirus pandemic that is taking a deadly toll everywhere.

Those leaders continually tested in the crucible of difficult leadership challenges are less likely susceptible to the Dodo’s problem.  Leadership must be open to aggressive, open challenges to ensure fresh ideas are tested against reality and old systems are verified.   Let’s avoid the Dodo’s fate by subjecting our leaders to healthy competition during normal times so that we are better prepared during emergencies.

Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

16 thoughts on “The Dodo’s Problem for Leaders

  1. Mikka Solarno

    Here is the take-away quote from today’s blog “Those leaders continually tested in the crucible of difficult leadership challenges are less likely susceptible to the Dodo’s problem.” Those who are unwilling to compete will be judged in the history of humankind as weak and feeble (traits that work to our disadvantage).

  2. Joe Omerrod

    Another excellent topic for discussion. Thanks, Gen Satterfield for letting us peek into your mind for a few minutes. We would, I think, from reading the comments today in your forum, that many of us would like for you to develop this idea further.

    1. Janna Faulkner

      Hi Joe. Glad to see you on this leadership site so early on a Sunday morning. I agree with you and would also recommend that a number of current situations be tied into the analysis by Gen. Satterfield. The most obvious is the COVID-19 problem but he could also add the upcoming political elections in the US and the less predictable natural disaster associated with hurricanes. These are very diverse issues but they also work well given what I’ve read so far.

    2. Otto Z. Zuckermann

      Maybe! I don’t think Gen. Satterfield is off the mark anywhere with his blog. I like it just the way it is with him determining the topics.

  3. Sally

    It would be a big learning event if Gen. Satterfield would link this current coronavirus pandemic with these principles. Great idea folks! What do you think?

  4. Mark Evans

    Yes, we do tend to think of the dodo bird as stupid, slow, and awkward. Just look at the picture! Look on the Internet. Yes, the dodo bird went extinct quickly but that also has happened with other animal (and plant) species. But what happened is they were not flexible enough to adapt to additional stresses in the environment. I see this in many people.

    1. Gil Johnson

      Don’t we all see this. Many commercial companies have failed because they were not adaptable. Just take a look at how some businesses are doing terrible and others great during the pandemic.

      1. KenFBrown

        Good example, Gil. I might add that it is difficult for animals to think into the future but for humans there is no excuse for that failure. “Pink Flamingo” events should not be hitting us that hard like the pandemic but it is.

  5. Ruth M. McMasters

    Competition is the basis of all life forms. Thus, it should come as no shock that leadership is also developed from competition and the best leaders are those that have risen from the crucible of competition regardless the form from which it is taken.

  6. Max Foster

    Yes, enjoyed todays’ short take. Leadership maybe should be looked at a little closer by Gen. Satterfield.
    I have some questions that maybe he can address:
    1. Is leadership influenced by personality?
    2. Is leadership predisposed in some folks and not in others?
    3. Does leadership exist as a natural part of humans and animals?
    4. Is leadership inborn (at least in part)?

    1. Scotty Bush

      These are some really good questions. I recommend that Gen. Satterfield try to take on a few over the next few days and see where they take him and our understanding of how leadership is developed.

    2. Big Al

      Yes, these are some questions that need to be answered truthfully or at least to the best of our ability.

      1. lydia

        Right! Like are men better leaders than women? Or, does this depend upon the society in which the question is asked? We can go from there.

    3. Greg Heyman

      Yes, I agree Max that Gen. Satterfield should be thinking along these lines and developing some idea of why or why not ‘inborn’ traits impact leadership skills.

  7. Eric Coda

    Great leadership demands competition. Interesting thought. I do believe you have hit upon something that most of us leaders chose, voluntarily and misguidedly, overlook.

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