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What the World’s Most Industrious and Successful Creatures, the Honey Bee, Can Teach Us about Leadership

Army-of-Bees-FINALv2When we purchased our first beehive, after carefully placing the queen in the hive, we tipped the box upside down and shook 5,000 bees into the hive. At first the bees were flying everywhere. But within minutes all the bees had settled into the hive and begun their work.

During the past three years as beekeepers, it’s been remarkable to open the hive and see the “industry” of honey making evolve through the various seasons of the year. In the spring, the hive has the fewest number of bees, and the scramble is on to build up the bee population and start honey production again. By summertime, the hive is in full production as the bee count dramatically increases and the honey cells are filled and capped. In the fall, the bees should have all the honey they need for the winter—the drones are gone, and the hive is sealed from the cold.

When you take the lid off the hive and watch the bees for any length of time, you will soon see the culture of the beehive. Every bee is industrious and purposeful. Communication occurs among the bees quickly. The queen is hard at work populating the hive and moving over the cells to ensure all the work of survival gets accomplished. Week after week the hive is transformed, helping us to see valuable leadership lessons in all their activity.

We wrote Survival of the Hive: 7 Leadership Lesson from a Beehive to include both the macro- and micro-responsibilities of a queen bee and her relationship to a hive. Each chapter explores how the beehive functions through the characters of Zync, a queen-in-waiting, and her fellow bees. Using the bee colony as an allegory to illustrate leadership in an organized community, we provide a working illustration of cultural complexity, leadership clarity, and the importance of trust as a foundation for excellence.

Although one might assume a queen bee represents a female style of leadership, the leadership lessons within the book are not gender specific. We encourage every reader to look past gender and focus on the key lessons applicable to all. We have also included a number of illustrations throughout the book to lend it levity and curiosity for the reader.

We have taken some license in the use of the beehive analogy to illustrate key beehive lessons we feel are important for today’s leaders in organizations and businesses. As we bring the hive to life through the personification of the various bees within the hive, our apologies to beekeepers, who may chuckle at the characters we’ve created. We have, however, been true to the specific activities of the hive—whether the dancing, the pheromone system, or the cooperativeness of the bee culture. Interestingly, it takes 300 bees visiting two million flowers and flying over 55,000 miles to make one pound of honey. That one pound of honey is the only food that includes all the substances necessary to sustain life, including water.

While many of the leadership traits we discuss are actually instinctual to bees, for the purpose of illustration we have added human tendencies to the bees to bring these traits to life. We then take those leadership lessons, at the conclusion of each chapter, and reflect on leadership within organizations. These reflections include examples of how the beehive traits can help today’s leaders achieve better outcomes. What does it mean to be focused on survival? How does a community expand and contract dramatically and not dissolve into chaos?

At the end of each chapter we have included key questions for leadership groups to discuss and develop on their own. These discussions will especially help new, emerging leaders recognize and embrace the importance of the seven leadership lessons. We encourage discussion facilitators to demonstrate the same principles within the book in order to encourage transparent discussions of issues and different perspectives.

We encourage you to download, for free, the introduction (most of it you just read) and the first chapter of Survival of the Hive. If your interest is peaked and you’re wondering what we can learn from one of the world’s most industrious and successful creatures, please pick up a copy of the book over at www.survivalofthehive.com. With a more complex, diverse and demanding workplace, especially post-Recession, we believe it is time to embrace a new style of leadership – one that encourages selfless leadership, collaboration, real-time communication and a ‘survival of the hive’ mentality. Join our community and help us start the conversation!

 

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