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She Fell - A Lesson from a Flock of Geese

Author: Sue Pivetta

Date: 2013-04-16
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Here in the Northwest we often are privileged to hear the familiar honking of Canadian geese as they fly low in their well-known “V” formation to some unknown destination. We know that flying in this formation creates an uplift for each following bird, allowing the flock to fly at least 71% further together than they could alone – thus they are often used to represent how much more efficient and effective we are when we cooperate. So what happens when one silly goose cannot or will not cooperate for some reason? 

Any goose voluntarily falling out of formation quickly feels the struggle of working alone and figures out they better get back in line or they’ll get left behind. 

If the lead goose gets tired, he rotates back in the wing and another goose flies on the point. 

Although the lead position is more difficult, the honkings from behind are like a “cheering squad” encouraging those working harder, a reminder many are counting on them while recognizing and appreciating their extra effort. Therefore that lovely honk honk as they fly overhead is the sound of support and encouragement. 

If any goose weakens or is wounded and falls out of formation, two geese immediately also fall out and follow him down to help and protect him. They stay with him until he is either able to fly or until he is dead. Then they set out on their own, or with another formation, until they catch up with the group. Reading this reminded me of Jamie, at one time a superb dispatcher. 

Jamie was one of those naturally happy people; cute – but not beautiful, lively, funny, talkative and kind. She was a natural on the phones; the officers adored her on the radio. She liked her job, until one day. You know, I can’t even remember what happened but she made a mistake – a biggee. What I can remember is the aftermath of that mistake. 

I can still see her seated at police radio that day. I had heard the rumors – she was doing terrible work. 

I leaned against the console and asked her how it was going. “I’m going to quit, Sue. I just can’t do this anymore. I don’t know what happened. I’ve lost my self-confidence; I’m making mistakes and just can’t keep up. It seems like we’re getting way too busy and this new CAD is too much for me.” No way, she’s good. 

I should have dropped out of the flock, followed her down to protect and help her. I should have stayed with her until she was able to fly or decided to leave. But there is no such word as should – there’s only could. And I didn’t. 

Here I am many years later with the image of Jamie’s usually smiling freckled face sitting there at the console – wounded, weak, helpless and confused. I don’t know what happened to her after she fell. I wasn’t there. 


Sue Pivetta is president of Professional Pride, Inc.  She has worked in emergency communications since 1989 as a college instructor, consultant, workshop leader and author.   She teaches adult learning through her book and workshop The Exceptional Trainer.  Contact Sue through her website to receive monthly special offers or to join the Professional Pride e-mail group.

Professional Pride also offers the Crispy Critter Club, a support service for frazzled dispatchers.

Flock of Geese photo by Randall D. Larson



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