Follow the Leader


By Phil Harwood

As I look out my office window onto a large mass of Autumn Joy Sedum (Hylotelephium 'Herbstfreude' AUTUMN JOY), I can’t help but notice that they are covered with bees. If you haven’t studied bees before, you may be surprised that we can learn a lot about leadership from them by considering their habits. Do you want to be a better leader? If so, take one minute to learn about three habits of honey bees that may translate directly to your leadership ability. 

Leadership Habit #1 - Develop Future Leaders

A leader develops future leaders to ensure the long-term viability of the organization. The queen bee, as CEO, masterfully ensures that sufficient numbers of role players are assigned to each department. In addition, she designates future leaders and provides for them, even though only one will ultimately be selected to be her successor. Her overarching goal is the long-term viability of the organization. 

A healthy queen bee will lay approximately 1,500 eggs per day during the spring and will decide the sex of each of the eggs. Females will be designated as either (future) queen bees or worker bees. Future (virgin) queen bees will be fed a special, protein-rich diet of “Royal Jelly” and will develop into sexually mature females. The other females will become important worker bees and are fed a diet of “bee bread” but will not reproduce. The virgin queen bees will seek each other out once emerged and kill each other off until only one remains. The victor will replace the old queen bee. 

Leadership Habit #2 - Support Your Leader

A leader is supported by a competent team of dedicated individuals all working together toward a common goal. The queen bee is responsible for reproduction. If she fails at this job, the entire colony fails. Because of this, the queen bee is surrounded by worker bees to attend to her every need. She is dutifully serviced (ahem) by the male bees. Male honey bees are called drones. Their only role is to mate with an unfertilized queen. After they do so, they immediately die. They are the ultimate role players. 

If you’re a fan of the Fibonacci Sequence (who couldn’t be?) check this out: The family tree of drones follows the Fibonacci Sequence, with the numbers of each previous generation being 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, etc. Never heard of Fibonacci? Here’s a fun video to explain it:

Leadership Habit #3 - No Micromanaging 

Leaders are most effective when they stay out of the weeds. The queen bee is focused on long-term succession planning, as mentioned above. She has no time or interest in interfering with day-to-day operations. She trusts that her worker bees are following established systems and protocols.

When female worker bees locate nectar, they return to the hive and do “the waggle dance” to instruct the other worker bees about the location of the food source. This communication system is a core process that functions nicely without the queen bees’ involvement. It’s a great example of letting people do their jobs without micromanagement.   

Applying these three traits to your leadership approach will yield dividends and produce a healthy, viable colony. 

Now go forth. 

Tags: Leadership , Habits , Team ,