Dolphins reveal dangerous leadership patterns

January 24, 2009
Dolphin training for defense duties

Dolphin training for defense duties

It has been suggested that Dolphins are prone to flock towards a pod member in distress, sometimes risking the entire pod. Is there a message for humans in times of crisis?

The plight of the dolphin is both sad and rather puzzling. It was brought to mind by an article applying evolutionary psychology to explaining leadership and followership. I wondered if the article might throw light on leadership patterns in dolphin pods and dog packs, as well as in business, political, and social organizations.

The article, in American Psychologist, has captured the attention of organisational theorists such as Bob Sutton.

The study is entitled Leadership, Followship and Evolution: Some Lessons from the past. It provides an evolutionary perspective to leadership. The thrust of its analysis is that leading and following

strategies that evolved in ancestral environments … with potential for exploitation … [and that ] modern organizational structures are sometimes inconsistent with aspects of our evolved leadership psychology [p182]

And so to human behaviors under stress

Homo economicus shows signs of distress. Like the Dolphin, many utter those distress signals, and attract other pod members to their call.

This week [January 22nd 2009] you could hear the distress calls from Jim Rogers, a former partner of George Soros, picked up by The Independent newspaper

When asked his advice for a young person growing up in Britain, Jim Rogers, former partner of George Soros and one of the world’s most successful investors, is forthright. “Move to China; learn Chinese.”

Beware of dirty dolphins

We humans may be prepared to train up dolphins for our security needs, but by and large we hold them in high regard. Unfortunately, many animals, maybe even dolphins, may resort to devious behaviors to help their selfish genes.

The cry from Jim Rogers seems to be that of the dirty dolfin in action.

He has sold all his sterling assets and has “no position” in sterling, but Mr Rogers reveals that he had been planning to short-sell sterling in the present financial crisis, before recent disparaging remarks about the pound’s prospects from his own lips had put paid to those plans. “I should have kept my mouth shut.”

Mr Rogers had in mind a repeat of his previous coup, when he and Mr Soros’s Quantum Fund famously “broke” the Bank of England in 1992, when sterling was forced out of the European exchange rate mechanism, costing UK taxpayers $1bn and making Mr Soros and Mr Rogers correspondingly wealthier.

The moral of the fable

When you hear the cry of a distressed dolphin, be careful how you respond. You may just have heard a dirty dolphin engaged in dastardy behavior.


To Earth to the ground website for the dolphin image drawing attention to a story of how how dolphin flocking behaviors may be deployed for security purposes.