Leadership secrets from foreign penguins from Ohio

Leadership by example helps forge a team. Let’s see how penguins can lead the way.

Leadership is not about a person’s – or an animal’s – title. It’s about, quite literally, leading the way.

A few years ago, there was a brand new fitness program at the San Francisco Zoo – a program that sort of just took off on its own without any goals or “leadership” from the zookeeper. This fitness program is for the birds, but it carries a leadership lesson for all of us.

The specific birds in question are penguins. Penguins are supposed to swim. In fact, 46 penguins at the San Francisco zoo had been taking regular dips in the pool to cool off and keep their feathers sleek. Ah, ain’t life grand. Lie around, eat, swim, rest, eat, swim, relax, eat, swim.

Until six “bodybuilder” penguins moved in from Ohio. The newcomers jumped into the pool and swam. And swam. And swam. In fact, those six penguins kept swimming laps all day long. Day after day. They must have been using a very effective antiperspirant.

The newcomers would start early in the morning and keep swimming in circles until they would “stagger” out of the pool at dusk.

What is most amazing, though, is that the six penguins ended up convincing the other 46 to join them. Hitherto “society” penguins are now swimming the whole day through like commoners. No more rest, eat. Now it was just swim.

Leadership lessons form foreign penguins

What is the secret to the Ohio penguins’ success?

I don’t speak “penguin” very well, but I think I overheard the following conversation:

“C’mon, what are you, a penguin or a rock?”

“Why, I’m a penguin, of course.”

“You don’t look like a penguin. All you do is sit around like a rock.”

“That’s not true. I swim … sometimes.”

“Ha! A true penguin swims all day long. Geronimo!”


“Hey. I’m a real penguin, too.”

“Who you shouting at, Percy?”

“That swimmer with too much adrenaline in his feathers. He says I’m not a real penguin because I don’t swim enough.”

“Oh, yeah? We’ll show him, won’t we, Percy?”

“You bet! Uh, how?”

“By out-swimming the showoff penguins.”


“Oh, oh. I guess I better get swimming right away.”


Foreign penguins show their leadership and their penguinhood

OK, so I might be a little off on my translation, but somehow those six penguins changed the entire lifestyle habits of the other 46. The zookeeper is reported by the wire service to have said:

“We’ve completely lost control.”


The wire story quoted an aquatic biologist as saying she would be more surprised if the six had taught the other 46 how to jump through hoops – something few penguins have been known to do in the wild with any success.

The point is not that the 46 penguins have learned to swim, which they had always been doing as a leisurely pastime, but that they are now in full aquatic stampede mode … and that they were convinced by the other six to change their entire lifestyle.

How did the six penguins do it?

Well, I was suspicious about penguins that come from Ohio. Everyone knows that penguins come from Antarctica. Last I could recall, Ohio was nowhere near Antarctica. Sure, it’s chilly in Ohio this time of year, but not THAT chilly. My atlas confirmed that Ohio is indeed still in the United States, not in Antarctica, meaning that these penguins were foreigners, perhaps victims of persecution – refugees from their homeland?

So these foreign penguins have come in and motivated the local penguins to live up to their full … ah … penguinhood. What an accomplishment! What success! And what great leadership lessons we can learn from this.

Lesson number one: don’t be afraid to try new things and accept outside influences.

Lesson number two:
be a penguin not a rock (unless, of course, you are a rock).

And lesson number three: don’t give up. If six penguins can whip 46 homebodies into shape, imagine how you could kick-start your own fitness program (or any other goal you set your mind to).


  1. LOL, this article made me chuckle, nice job as I’m not easily amused. But the message I heard loud and clear great job on writing this! I own an insurance agency in Boise and try to lead by example and no one works harder than I.

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