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What Can Business Leaders Learn from Honeybees?

-Phillip Thomas

Honeybees have been around for over 5,000 years, surviving floods, droughts, fires, wars, and everything else they have encountered along the way. To say they are resilient is an understatement. To accomplish this, honeybees work as a collective unit (the colony) towards common ends such as building a necessary food supply, shelter, and a sustainable, scalable “living” hive. They also are very good at succession planning around their leader, the Queen.

YouTube is alive with videos about bees found in old sheds, building, trees, and homes where there are 10’s of thousands of bees, a full pantry of honeycomb, honey, and pollen. Everyone is getting along, each doing their respective job to perfection. If you have ever studied a piece of honeycomb, notice its artfully perfect symmetry and unflawed design – thousands of cells, all perfectly made and utilized for a variety of purposes to serve the colony.

The colony is headed up by an authority figure, in this case the queen, and if they lose the queen or she becomes incapacitated, they “make” a new one. And when the colony becomes too large for their circumstances, select bees find a new and larger home for the hive. Once identified, they return to the hive and in a very well documented democratic process, the colony selects a new location based on a consensus after considering several options.

This consensus emerges from a process of communication and “voting” by members of the colony. Once the voting is complete, the queen and much of the hive depart for the new location, leaving behind enough bees to sustain the smaller colony, who immediately go to work creating a new queen/leader and growing the colony to a more sustainable size.

Businesses are a lot like bee hives (or should be). Teams of people, working together toward common goals, united in their values and culture – each doing their part as an element of the whole. Like the hive, business leaders work in their capacity as hard as the rest of the hive. Each bee has a defined set of roles that are understood and carried out virtually flawlessly for their entire life.  The colony grows, all are benefited by the labor of every individual, and the overall society flourishes by this collaborative group effort.

We can learn much from observing and understanding the intricacies of a honeybee colony…for like the bees, our lives depend on hard and thoughtful work producing goods and services that others will pay for, as we seek to provide for our own lives and the lives of those we love.

Indeed, as George Bernard Shaw said in 1903: “Go To The Bee, Thou Poet; Consider Her Ways And Be Wise.”

View the 2018 annual report from the National Honey Board:

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