Wild Leadership: Learning from Sea Turtles

what can sea turtles teach leaders?

Scientists believe the sea turtles and dinosaurs were living on the earth at the same time. Can you believe that? Talk about adaptability. The waters around the United States are home to 6 of the 7 sea turtle species that exist in the world’s oceans today. When female sea turtles are ready to lay their eggs, they navigate to warm waters (hello Florida!) and go ashore to lay their eggs.

October 31 does not just represent Halloween; it also means the end of sea turtle nesting season for coastal Floridians. A season of the year where we ask humans to be a bit more cautious while on the coastline. One example of this is the state statutes and local ordinances around coastal Florida that regulate the types of lighting that beachfront properties and businesses may use. The goal here is to minimize human-created distinctions for the nesting females and the hatchlings when they journey from the nest to the ocean.

Learning 1 – In the Nest & Out of the Nest Together

A female sea turtle may dig in beachfront sand for hours to create a nest. In her nest, she lays nearly 100 eggs that will incubate for two months before hatching. The sand-covered nest protects the eggs and allows them to incubate. But, when the eggs hatch and the hatchlings are ready to head to the ocean, they are essentially buried.

Researchers know that the hatchlings work together to dig themselves out of the nest with their flippers, which they coined as social facilitation. In a 2016 study, scientists found that by working together, the hatchlings experience several benefits:

  • The hatchlings reduce the amount of energy they use to escape the nest – giving them more energy for their big swim
  • The hatchlings use the minimal nutrition they have available in the nest more efficiently
  • By working together, the hatchlings escape from the nest quicker

This is all part of the “nest escape process.” The hatchlings instinctively know to work together to get out of the buried nest. I’d say that’s truly a shared vision!

Leader Reflection Questions

  1. How might you foster a shared vision across your team?
  2. How might you strengthen your leadership abilities to foster greater alignment?
  3. Reflect on the ‘nest escape process’ at your organization. Are there ways to foster greater alignment across team members?
  4. Reflect on your team. Is everyone aware of the vision? How might we strengthen the shared vision?
  5. What shared visions do you contribute to currently? Think about your organization, certification groups you are a part of, such as WBENC, professional networks, your industry, etc. 

Learning 2 – Dig and Rest Together

Remember, even during this “nest escape process,” where the hatchlings dig up through the sand for days to break out of the buried next, it is not a constant effort. The hatchlings aren’t just digging for days on end without rest. There are periods when the hatchlings actively dig together and periods where the hatchlings rest together. And this may, hands down, be one of the most critical learnings – the hatchlings all rest. Not a few of the hatchlings, not all but the high achievers or top performers – but all.

Leader Reflection Questions

  1. How might you integrate the practice of rest and restoration into your leadership practice?
  2. How might you model rest and provide a clear expectation of rest to your team?
  3. How might you integrate wellbeing and mindfulness models and methods into your work?

Learning 3 – Be as majestic as a sea turtle

A sea turtle battles many natural threats in its early life. While incubating, the sea turtle eggs face threats of being eaten by crabs or foxes. Birds threaten the hatchlings during their journey up from the nest, cross the sand, and into the ocean. And while swimming out to sea, birds and even fish threaten to eat them. In addition to natural threats, all sea turtles actively face human-made threats like fishing line engagement, marine debris, trash, coastal habitat destruction, poaching of adults and eggs, and climate change.

If you’ve ever seen a sea turtle up close or in a documentary, you may have thought the sea turtle was crying – that’s a misconception or misperception. What appears to many of us as crying is an amazing adaption that allows sea turtles to thrive in their environment. Sea turtles live and eat in the salty ocean water. Because of all the saltwater they intake, their bodies need a way to rid themselves of all that salt! To do that, their bodies have massive glands that are located directly by their eyes. As sea turtles release the salt from their body, through these glands, it appears they are crying.

Yet, regardless of the threats and misconceptions, sea turtles are still considered “the most majestic of the turtle family!” 

Leader Reflection Questions

  1. Reflect on your industry and business environment. What threats do you currently face?
  2. What are your differentiators – whether for your business or your professional experience?
  3. How do you navigate threats and misconceptions?
  4. What makes you and your team majestic?

Ready to bring these Wild Leadership principles to life at your organization?