I recently took a local cooperative extension course in an attempt to find a little balance in my life and learn a thing or two about beekeeping. Nice change of pace I thought, and maybe it’d help me be a better natural citizen. So, for two hours on Thursday nights I learned about bees and how to keep them. The connections to leadership are fascinating, but I’m not going to go into all of them. I apologize upfront to master beekeepers for oversimplifying, I don’t know enough about bees yet to get it right. In any case, below I share a few of the connections between the world of bees and leadership.

I learned that the one and only queen bee in a colony begins her life with that exact same “stuff” as everyone else. However, she is fed royal jelly while others receive less regal food. It is through this means that the colony makes their queen. There are other potential queens, but only one queen reigns in the hive; the others leave or well, meet another end – that happens in human leadership too, but it is not one of the better stories to tell. The part I focused on was the role of the collective in creating leadership. Leaders may begin to look exceptional, but they often do not start out that way.

Another interesting connection is that the queen is critical to the healthy functioning of a colony. There are bees whose job it is to spread the scent of the queen throughout the hive. Rumor has it that it only takes about 15 minutes for the bees to get agitated if they stop sensing the queen is around. I thought of organizational and community life and how important it can be, particularly in times of unrest, that a message is communicated and reinforced; leadership (in some form, perhaps not a queen) is present.

And finally, I learned that if a bee stings you included with the stinger (at no extra charge to you) is a scent that let other bees know you are a threat and attracts them to you, in a bad way. Bees protect their hive; they are willing to die for the well-being of the colony. A colony functions as a collective, with emphasis on common well-being. Upon finding a good source of food, forager bees return to the hive and do an intricate dance indicating the exact location of the food and how plentiful it is. The queen doesn’t have a lot to do with this aspect of the colony. The queen makes sure there are enough bees, but by and large the bees handle the day-to-day operations of the hive. The bees work together to determine the needs of the colony and how to meet them. The extent to which the collective needs are accurately communicated and met by the various components of the colony, determines the well-being of the hive.

It is undoubtedly more difficult for people, but I can’t help but think the underlying process may be similar.

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