Over the past couple weeks in preparation for Garlicfest, I’ve thought a bit more about effective leadership characteristics – perhaps because of all that’s going on in the world.  Just because you are in command and therefore, are the leader, doesn’t automatically make you a great leader.  Leaders can inspire and engage, or they can disappoint and disillusion.

In my 2013 book, “Survival of the Hive: 7 Leadership Lessons from a Beehive,” we discussed the importance of leadership presence or a leader’s pheromone factor.  As you might guess from the title, we studied bees and their amazing use of organizational skills, team-building skills and product development to see if we could identify a couple of key findings that we could apply to us humans to build stronger organizations, initiatives, businesses and teams. 

One of the fascinating findings we found was that of the leadership within the hive, especially from the queen.  One of the important factors we found was that the queen’s pheromones system actually adjusted the behavior of all the other bees working.  The pheromone system in the queen bee automatically ensured that her leadership provided the hive with a sense of her presence (or what we called the footprint factor), an adequate number of bees (what we called the resourcing factor), assurance to the hive (what we called the calming factor) and common purpose and community (what we called the unity factor). 

When we think about it, all leaders have certain essences or pheromone factors that influence an organization, department, or team’s success to a profound effect. Whether the leader is the head of the organization, or a departmental or section leader, these attributes—or the lack of them—influence the entire culture of the organization.

Leaving a Footprint
As leaders it’s important for us to get up and get out – what has been called ‘management by walking around.’ We are generals of our armies and we should be seen in the daily battles that our workers are doing.  Leaders often fail to communicate enough when change is occurring in the organization. They neglect to schedule visits to departments and teams to explain the case for the change and the vision for the future. This lack of a “footprint” leaves people stressed about the change, imagining the worst and susceptible to the negative projections of resistors.

Securing the Resources Needed to Succeed
A good leader understands that one of the biggest jobs he or she has is adequately understanding and supplying the resources need of an organization or initiative.  The queen bee is responsible for resourcing her hive with enough bees to produce the honey that is needed. She is single-minded in her effort, laying sometimes 2,000 eggs per day. My question to leaders is: Are you providing adequate resources to get the work done, or are you always suggesting that people need to do more with less? There is a breaking point where under-resourcing can place your department, team, or organization at great risk. Conversely, paying too little attention to a ballooning resource pool will cause over-expenditures. Careful resource planning is an imperative of a good leader. During tough economic times when organizations are tempted to “cut to the bone” on resources, there needs to be conversation about the longer-term impact of those decisions and the risks associated. Are we leaving ourselves open to quality risks? Are we overtaxing our high performers to the point where they will want to leave?

Sounding the Alarms
The leader must also be wise about what alarms are communicated throughout the group or organization. If everything sets off an alarm, then soon no one is listening. And, interestingly as the beehive illustrates, there are offensive and defensive alarms. Sometimes it’s necessary to be proactive and sometimes it’s necessary to be able to defend or repel the attack. As a leader, are our proactive actions focused outside the hive, or are employees attacking each other within the organization? Bees never attack each other, only those threats outside the hive. They are also very careful about how many resources they use to respond to a threat or an attack.

Calming the Fears
In today’s world of constant change, the calming factor may be one of the most important for leaders. Running around like “Chicken Little” only creates anxiety and confusion. In the most turbulent and chaotic times, it is the best leaders that keep a steady hand, focus their vision on the horizon, and exude confidence in themselves as well as their hive.

Unity of Purpose
And finally, the retinue, or Unity P-Factor, that builds unity of purpose, a culture of excellence and community so clear and vital that no one can mistake it, is not about being the most feared leader or the most commanding one but rather the leader that can unify the organization, team, or department around a sense of purpose and galvanize it to action in a positive way.

Effective leaders leave a footprint, resource correctly, calm others, and unite people around a common purpose. They recognize that alarms are often set off by others and toward others, even within the organization, department, or team. A strong leader reminds people, often through his or her daily presence and involvement, that the survival of the hive (or initiative, festival, team, country, business or organization) is the most important thing.

Always Onward,
Matt Harrington