Leadership of the Owl

As autumn nights started to approach, the air conditioning was turned off and the windows were opened.  The smell of the fresh fall air filled the room with a wonderful fragrance.  But, as I laid in darkness in another extended bout of insomnia, I couldn’t figure out what strange animal sound kept grabbing my attention nightly.  Finally, as I looked out the window later that week, I saw a strange bird flying around with an impressive wingspan.  It was an Owl.

In mythology, literature, and many belief systems, the qualities and characteristics of animals are often personified.  The traits of the Owl are behaviors that are associated with successful leaders — vision, insight, and wisdom. 


In organizations, leaders see and provide the vision that inspires people to make the impossible possible and drives people to work together as a team to accomplish what no one could do as individuals.  That vision becomes substance and results through faith, work, and resilience. 


Insight is defined as an instance of apprehending the true nature of a thing, especially through intuitive understanding.  Author John C. Maxwell in The 21 Indispensible Qualities of a Leader describes this in the qualities of discernment and problem solving.  Harlan Cleveland said that leaders are problem solvers by choice, talent and temperament.   They don’t know all of the answers, but they know how to seek answers to the right questions and stay focused long enough to obtain the desired results. 


Wikipedia.org defines wisdom as “a deep understanding and realizing of people, things, events or situations, resulting in the ability to choose or act to consistently to produce the optimum results with a minimum of time and energy.”  A wise person has self-knowledge, is sincere and direct with others, is asked for advice by others, and has actions that are consistent with their ethical beliefs.  Maxwell talks about this in his discussion on self-reliance, relationship, problem solving, and character. 

Andy Andrews in his book Mastering the Seven Decisions That Determine Personal Success asserts that wisdom is “an intuitive element, an insight gained from personal experience that serves us as we make choices in our lives.”  Wisdom should not be mistaken for education.  It’s the aggregation of discrete bits of incomplete knowledge that the wise man transforms into a deep understanding. 

The insight, vision, and wisdom of the Owl leader come in the darkness of the night, during a time when many of us slumber.  I think I will give up my losing battle with insomnia and listen to the soothing hoot of the Owl as I drift away dreaming a little dream of leadership.

Linda Cureton, CIO, NASA


7 thoughts on “Leadership of the Owl”

  1. Vision, insight and wisdom = exceptional leadership. I love this post, Linda! The fact that you stopped to recognize the noise indicates your insight, no doubt. Choosing to let that very sound take you into rest demonstrates wisdom. I’m wondering … what’s your vision? What does it mean to make IT Stellar at NASA? What’s the net result of such a powerful vision?

    Offered with respect,

    Misti Burmeister, author of “from Boomers to Bloggers: Success Strategies Across Generations”

  2. It is really dangerous for us to be caught by surprise by the leadership of the owl, when we are sleepy. Lucky that the owl more like mice, snakes and small chicks (which seems like a coward, but the owl needs to eat, the chicken was not attentive, and the ferocity of cyclic food chains is still a selective survival pattern of apparently functional).

    But if we imagine the owl only metaphorically, referring to a human leadership, as you wisely did, we realized that leadership is nourished by all the sensations of touch, hearing, taste, smell and sight. I think, Linda Cureton, a leader who can not provide vision, insight and wisdom without a comprehensive study, wide and plentiful in the world and life, without a clear, specific goals, above all others, as a northern, a guide , a milestone to reach.

    As owl should fly high. Can not limited to books and information of questionable character, but must above all things, seek to assimilate the world with objectivity and good will. All things are apt to make us happy, teach and serve. The ability to investigate the beautiful, carefully turning the imperfections, and acknowledge dignity for usefulness and helpfulness of all things is key to leadership best results.

    Never make yourself kid inside you. Expand understanding of the position itself part of all, influential in the events surrounding us, sharing enthusiasm and making the improvements, guided by the most beautiful and perfect life and dreams of achievement, are ways to achieve a level of excellence in leadership. Why not just be a leader and set the law, standard or order, leading above all to meet the lead. And there is no other satisfaction than the good, peace, security, confidence, peacefulness, comfort, affection, to aid in understanding the fate and distribution of donations every day, whether in a smile, a handshake, a joke making, confirming and securing with concrete gestures of friendship strong.

    Like owls, we must know our place in the world. And this place is always forward.

  3. Re: Comment on October 17, 2010 10:53:56 AM Misti Burmeister

    Making IT stellar at NASA means that our IT program shines. NASA has some of the best engineers and scientists in the whole world. They deserve to have the best IT that we can give them which enables their mission while balancing affordability and innovation. The net result is that we will move beyond service that is merely “acceptable” and deliver capability that delights the customer.

  4. Linda,

    Seems to me that you’re on a quest, one of a personal nature:
    You’re trying to find the “magic formula” that transforms an individual from “ordinary” into a “leader”. Well…

    Just as there is no magic formula that transforms an individual from “ordinary” to “hero”, it’s been my experience that in the industrial realm true leadership is an acquired ability. Just as one head cannot contain all wisdom, leaders are not born…they are made.

    In the military, time and again heroes are created by ordinary soldiers doing what others consider extraordinary, but when you ask them, they’ll tell you that they were just doing their job. Think of Forrest Gump carrying his fellow soldiers out of the jungle. Forrest never understood why everyone made such a big fuss because all he was doing was his job.

    In my opinion, the path to true leadership is bordered by wisdom with compassion as a balancing agent. You can be like Sheldon in “The Big Bang Theory”, intelligent to the point of being socially dysfunctional, but people will laugh at you behind your back.

    But temper wisdom with compassion, and you will have earned the respect of those around you.

    I prefer to lead by example. Yes, my experience has given me the wisdom and insight I need, but I never make those around me feel inadequate or small.

    Set a good example, and you will be a good leader.

    In my former life, I was the “hero” many times over. I’d arrive at the plant, fix their problems, and drive off into the sunset.
    But now, and this applies to your IT group, it’s more like the old “for lack of a horseshoe nail” paradigm.

    So, do the very best that you can for your “customers”, and they will see you as a great leader in your own light.

    One more thing…never stop trying to get better!

  5. Thanks Linda … This is a great read. And I appreciate your adding the references for further reading and personal/professional development and mentorship.

    Kind regards,

    Ken Russell

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