Bees are fascinating insects. We can learn many leadership lessons from bees.  Too often we take nature for granted and fail to study it and learn from it.  There are many fascinating facts about bees. I am no expert on the little insects by any means.  I have a few interesting facts to share with you and “converted or adapted – shall we say modified” them to help convey key leadership skills necessary in our busy day-to-day work lives.

After Spring the hive is at its lowest population. Bees need to build up the hive during spring to increase the population by the time summer arrives. By summer it is essential that the hive should be in full honey production mode.

First lesson from bees – do not focus on short-term goals alone, you must plan ahead. Future planning is necessary. What happens if the source of nectar diminishes or disappears? Never sit back and be complacent because things change fast. We should constantly be changing and innovating for the future success of the hive (company). In bee speak – plain flavoured honey pays the bills today. What will pay the bills tomorrow?

Usually bee hives continually transform but when complacency sets in, the hive will struggle to change and maintain the urgency and momentum necessary to survive and prosper.

Every bee in a hive is industrious and purposeful. Under normal conditions they communicate quickly and efficiently. When communication breaks down and decision making is too hierarchical – problems can occur. Engaged employees thrive on autonomy within a set of boundaries. People prefer to be given a set of parameters within which to operate and then be left alone to make the decisions necessary to implement. Each bee is accountable for its actions and so too should employees be held 100% accountable for their actions.

The leadership lessons are not gender specific – leaders should look past gender and focus on the key lessons. It is most often advantageous to have a split of gender in any team. It brings balance to the decision making process.

Bees typically develop defence systems to keep out intruders. They have bees responsible for different jobs and each bees knows and understands what the other is supposed to do. They ensure the hive is environmentally friendly and control the temperature. Communication is key – crystal, clear, customised communication. The hives are, generally speaking, well organised to ensure the survival of the hive.  Bees are social insects.

It takes 300 bees visiting 2 million flowers, flying over 88,000 km’s (54,680 miles) to make 454 grams (1 pound) of honey. Bees are hard working insects. If only 13% of your workforce (hive) are engaged in what they do (Gallup Poll of 2012), how much productivity are you losing every day through disengaged workers? How many more flowers could the bees in your hive be visiting every day?

There is nothing more important to you as a leader than the survival of the hive, so make sure you run it properly and engage your teams. Visit them, talk to them, inspire and encourage them.  Too often leaders put their own importance above that of the hive. Leaders should be self-sacrificing, not self-serving. Employee engagement is a serious business issue. Engaged employee produce better results.

The messages passed on by leaders should be simple and easy to understand – well that is the starting point. Fast, efficient communication that is crystal clear is not only motivating and constructive but ensures the hive is focused.  The more people (bees) on board the change initiative, the easier it will be to implement. Change, innovation and engagement are “team sports”. Bees work as a team with no silos and so too should employees.

All decisions should not depend on one person. Allow autonomy throughout the hive. People thrive on autonomy.

Run the hive as if it is your own business. Allow employees to take ownership. Never lie. Never feel pressured to lie. If you do not lie, then you will not have to remember. Trust is a critical leadership competency. It is what builds great teams and great businesses. Most importantly it leads to higher employee engagement which in turn increased productivity.

Instilling fear in the hive is a poor leadership tactic. Fear stifles change, innovation and creativity. Fear should be overcome with support, learning and trust. This is what good leaders do. They mentor, they engage.

Bees never attack each other – they will only attack outsiders who enter their hive and pose a threat. They are also careful and calculated about how many resources to throw at the attack.

We can learn a lot from bees – perhaps it is because they do not have a coffee machine which is often the source of breeding discontent. Rumours start when the communication is “foggy” or unclear. Do not allow rumours to start – they destroy change efforts fast. They destroy innovation. They build silos. Rumours disengage teams. Rumours must be eradicated as much as possible to ensure a healthy and focused hive.

The bees work together for a collective purpose. There are no silos in a hive. Each bee has a purpose for being there and each knows what it is. Purpose trumps strategy and passion, it leads to improved employee engagement by providing a meaning for the work employees do. Team work ensures the survival of the hive. Purpose provides meaning.

Each bee knows and understands that what they do is important for the survival of the hive. They all feel that what they do and what they think matters. No role is greater than the other, each is critical to the survival.

The hive is interactive 24/7. If there is work to be done, the hive gets it done. There is an “i” in hive but it is the “we” in culture that secures the results. Change the social scripts (the behaviours) to be more positive and to improve the corporate culture.

Successful hives do not have huge distances of command between workers and the Queen bee. Decisions are quick and efficient. The leaders in a hive allow and encourage autonomous decision making. The leader provides direction by defining the “what” and “why” for the departments or teams. The bees determine ‘how’. This is good leadership and ensures the organisation is always moving forward.

Leaders do not do every task. It is the way this is communicated that dissolves resentment and disengagement.

Seeing the leaders walking around and engaging teams is motivating for all. It sets and determines the culture.

Show workers the progress they make. The brain thrives on short-term wins. Plan to win but plan to celebrate the win too.

When a bee waggles its’ body it sends out a scent of the flower and this permeates the hive. This scent communicates to the foragers exactly what flower to harvest. It provides accurate information so that little time is wasted looking for things you already know. Communication is not some once a month event, it must be continuous and all of the time. Clarity dissolves complacency. Communication is important but the right type of communication.

Once a bee has been out on patrol is has typically visited 150 to 1500 flowers. The bees stomach is full of nectar and almost equal in weight to the bee itself. No job is too big or too hard. Engage workers and productivity will surely increase.

Bees can fly as high as Mount Everest.  Always set your goals high. Not too high or the team may become disengaged due to the fact that the goal is just unobtainable. Not too easy or the team may become bored. Take time to think about the goals and set challenging and meaningful goals that will engage the team or the individual.

Perfect honey has a moisture content of 17% water. Every bee is focused on producing honey to this exact standard. There is no room for error. Each bee looks at the big picture, understands where it fits in the picture and ensures it contributes to attaining this objective. Quality is of paramount important. The bees do not compromise quality for speed when making honey. They are disciplined and work as a team. Rather than doing things right they focus on doing the right thing.

A typical queen bee lays up to 2000 eggs a day to increase the hive population to 50,000 bees at the height of the summer when production should be in full swing.  By varying her pheromones, the queen effectively controls the hive. She is “hands-on” with regard to the resources required. Often leaders in organisations are so far removed that they reduce resources instead of increasing them with disastrous results. Leaders should understand their business and get out in the field, visit clients, talk to workers on the factory floor, get to know the business and what makes it tick. But do not micromanage. Provide clear instructions and then out of the way.

Oh! One more interesting fact. Did you know that bees have 5 eyes? Bee alert (excuse the pun) on every occasion and constantly scan the environment for opportunities and threats.

Paul Rigby – co-author of The Bee Book and facilitator of Bee A great Leader workshop