By Amanda Khoza, Divisional Director, Transformation & Social Inclusion, Liberty Group
Nature provides many lessons for humans to learn from – biomimicry is the study of nature-inspired solutions to human challenges. It takes 300 bees flying to 2 million flowers over a distance of 88,000km to make less than half a kilogram of honey. That is an average individual bee run of 6,667 flowers over 293km! A study of bees thus provides many leadership lessons that can address some of the issues encountered when leading and managing a business.
The thought of a bee sting terrifies me. I must add that I have never been stung by a bee so I cannot relate to the pain of its sting nor know what to do should it happen. Like most insects and bugs, bees are swatted away, stomped on, fumigated, sprayed – anything to get rid of them. They are feared, tiny-winged buzzers whose observed order and structure intrigues me as they congregate to survive communally amidst the human interferences that outsize them. Nature provides many lessons for humans to learn from and a study of bees thus provides many leadership lessons that can address some of the issues encountered when leading and managing a business.
Most organizations pursue company loyalty by stating their core value as: “employees are our greatest asset”. Yet business people know that assets are primarily in place as a means to an end. Something you own, something that generates wealth, depreciates over time, is maintained over its useful life and eventually gets replaced. Now I know that, that is not what is intended by holding this as a company value, however the unintended consequence is that the understanding and in most instances the experience employees have infers a coldness that puts them in their place on an income statement not a balance sheet where assets are often reflected. We pay you a salary for the skills that you provide. That is a normal business transaction, but what if it were more than that. What if you were to do as one company I once worked with expressed and summarized as their employee value: “we see people as people”. We mustn’t forget that it is how we lead that determines the direction, path and journey that your organization will take. We all know that people leave managers not companies.
In a hive the queen bee is known for its position of power, and little is known about the other authorities present. The distribution and spread of authority is commonplace for an effectively run hive. When you become an employer, then one needs to consider how an entrepreneur can successfully transition from the brains behind starting the business into managing and leading the brains behind keeping the business running. Whether leading or managing, both roles are equally important to sustain a business. Managers administer resources, tasks and facilities – they get the job done. Leaders live the vision, set the culture, own the customer experience strategy, motivate with authenticity, and manage the organizational efficiency and effectiveness. When you move from being the heart of the business to the head, it does not mean that you lose anything. Leaders make many people decisions alongside business ones – the manner and approach on how these are relayed will make or break the business. Ensure you have the right people in place – it’s critical to business longevity. Choosing managers must be strategic, deliberate, inspired.
The culture of the colony is important with bees and alludes to the whole being greater than the sum of the parts. Knowing how to manage within this context requires maturity and the understanding of how leverage enhances the success of a team. Technical experts are frequently given managerial positions because that‘s how companies think they should practically be acknowledged for their value and their level of expertise. However these experts now need to support their teams as well as their own success. One key act for managers as well is to delegate, thus ensuring that they reduce the time spent on stuff they no longer are responsible for, whilst driving collaboration and cooperation within the team. Also, the struggle of stepping back and letting their teams deliver on strategies and get the credit for it, requires managers to assume more of a people support and development role. This feeling of loss of “starring role” is understandably present as it means that one’s position of character lead seemingly limits or reduces your shine. Learn from the bees- they have distinct roles where warrior bees, worker bees and explorer bees bring their own value to the success of the colony. Managers should encourage individual and team work success. As a manager, never forget that if your team does well, you look good; so don’t alienate them by taking credit due to them. When they win, you win too.
It fascinates me how bees are running big corporate-like colonies: with well-intentioned strategies, the right leadership, resources that work together, and foresight of short term activities and long term plans. Makes one see honey very differently – would you like honey with that tea?
Amanda Khoza is the Divisional Director: Transformation & Inclusion at Liberty Group, based in Johannesburg, South Africa. She is a passionate advocate for economic empowerment, financial literacy, and believes in the power of entrepreneurship to make real and lasting societal change happen on the African continent. Amanda is championing a host of initiatives for women entrepreneurs in South Africa, including partnering with Lionesses of Africa on the Lioness Lean In Liberty Sessions programme for intrapreneurs at Liberty, supporting The Mix newsletter each month as an impact partner, and joining with Standard Bank as the impact partners for the Lionesses of Africa Accelerator programme series in Johannesburg.
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