Leadership and Lichens – Glenn Brooke

Leaders working in complex organizations have some things to learn from lichens. Let me first give you the biology lesson, then talk about how to apply this in organizational life.

Lichens are a composite organism of both fungal and algae (or cyanobacteria) cells.  The algae cells are completely enclosed in the fungus layer like this:


Lichens are symbiotic; each part helps the whole organism.  The algae layer is photosynthetic, using the energy of sunlight to convert atmospheric carbon into useful sugars.  The fungus provides protection from dehydration, and more surface area to collect moisture and minerals.  Lichens have enormous variety and are found in every land environment on the planet – including some of the harshest environments where no other plant species survives.  Lichens thrive where neither algae nor fungus alone could survive.

New species of lichens appear in nature regularly. Scientists have created lichen species in the lab.  The first in-lab creation of a lichen was done by Eugen Thomas in 1939.

(Want to learn more? There’s a nice article on lichens available on Wikipedia.)

So what organizational leadership lessons can leaders learn from lichens?

  • There is power and elegance in combining two things into an entirely new solution – a software service, a human process, a new market, even a new business model.
  • Lichens are successful because both entities contribute to success.
  • “Lichen”-generating organizations can move into new (and often harsh) environmental niches that would not support either parent.
  • A symbiosis is a step-change opportunity, not an incremental improvement.
  • The diversity of lichens is astounding.
  • “Lichen” opportunities can be engineered.
  • If one component (e.g., one software package) is not a full solution, perhaps it can be “lichen-ized” with another component to create a more successful solution.

Look for lichen opportunities for the future of your organization.

Can You Create Team Cohesion In a Flexible Workforce?

Photo Credit: Yandle via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Yandle via Compfight cc

These days, more companies than ever are choosing to utilize the skills of a flexible workforce; that is, a team of colleagues comprising freelancers, external contractors, independent workers, temps, and part-time staff members, alongside those who hold full-time, permanent contracts. This option offers diversity in the workplace, and team members who are experienced and highly skilled in their field.

Freelance workers and independent contractors are a popular choice for many companies as they offer flexibility, knowledge, and expertise that full-time staff members often won’t possess. A flexible workforce also tends to be more cost-effective, enabling managers to lower their office expenses and use funds elsewhere. Despite the advantages, a flexible workforce can also bring about a loss of cohesion in the office; how can staff members remain motivated if they seldom feel a part of the same team?

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