One thing that many people may not know about me is that on top of being a podcast host for CBS radio and TV host for C-Suite TV, I am also a beekeeper. Out at my place in South Dakota, I have hives set up, and every year, my family harvests honey for our side business, Hayzlett Honey. It’s fun, relaxing, tasty and a great way to help save the bees. They are vital to the global food supply, and according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. beekeepers experienced over 42 percent in loss in their honeybee colonies from 2014 to 2015.
Seeing a bee can strike fear into some, but there are great lessons to be learned from these creatures. They are experts in working together, achieving goals to positively impact the common good. Here are four lessons we can all learn from bees:
1. Work together.
In a single colony, there can be thousands of bees that need to work together in order to survive. Survival is a pretty good incentive to work together -- and in order for your business to survive, your team must work together. Bees have neither ego nor ulterior motives they’re working around. Instead, they are totally focused on obtaining the goals for the betterment of the entire colony, not just specific individuals.
For your team to really understand what together means, you as the leader must be totally transparent in how the business runs. If your business is experiencing challenges, sit down with your team for a brainstorming session. Just landed a big win? Share that with the team, in both a congratulatory announcement and celebration, whether it’s bringing in lunch or taking folks out for a beer.
My best practice: Don’t hide in your office or in the boardroom. Be out where your team is. In fact, even bring some of your meetings and calls out into the open, so the team has the chance to hear how the business is being run.
Just as bees best communicate in dances and pheromones, your business must have a solid communication structure in place. Team members must be confident and comfortable enough to raise the red flag if need, ask their colleagues for help or reach out to you for guidance. If bees were unable to effectively communicate with one another, their very survival would be at stake.
Communication is just as critical to your businesses survival. You must also be clear in your communication to your team. Don’t be vague in requests -- be specific. Be clear and concise in your expectations and goals, and expect that how you communicate to your team that they will communicate the same way back to you.
My best practice: Set aside time each week to talk with your team individually and as a group. Keep it to a standing meeting -- 15 minutes at most. That way, everyone has time to bring opportunities and challenges to you without beating around the proverbial bushes.
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A bee’s survival also depends on their ability to adapt. If environmental factors such as extreme temperatures or drought threaten their survivability, bees will relocate to better circumstances. They don’t let personal feelings or the notion of "we’ve always done it this way" interfere with the bottom line.
Encourage your team to do away with any preconceived notions of how business needs to be done, and quit with any limiting excuses. Launching a startup and running a successful business is hard work, and it’s called that because it’s hard.
My best practice: Get in the habit of causing tension amongst your team, clients, partners and everyone in between. Ask probing questions that push people to the edge of the table instead of staying comfortable in the middle. We’re entrepreneurs -- change agents -- so we need to act like it.
4. Servant leadership
Yes, there is a queen bee -- but she isn’t a tyrannical leader laying down laws. Rather, she is a servant to her hive, laying eggs and producing more quality bees to help ensure the hive continues. The queen knows her role within the colony and performs her duties while trusting the hive to do their duties.
As much as we are leaders in our company, guiding others to achieve our vision for the company -- we are also servants to our team. There have been times where I’ve had to let clients go because they weren’t a right fit for our company. Rather than force my team to work with the client, it was best for business to introduce the client to another agency who could best meet their needs. Does it sting to lose money? Sure -- but it stings even worse when my team is struggling to meet unrealistic goals set forth by clients, and other clients are feeling the effect.
Other times, I'm the one who needs to step out of the way of my team. My team knows what they’re doing, and they don’t need (or want!) me micromanaging details, so I need to get out of their way and let them do what they do best.
My best practice: Ask what your team needs from you and actively listen. Sometimes their requests are actually just opportunities to vent, whereas other times they’re actual needs. It’s your job as the leader to discern the two and take action when need be.