Leadership and nature



Once I was visiting a client who elegantly drove all operations through the Agile Scrum methodology. The teams were self-organized, collaborative, and multidisciplinary as expected. One team, in particular, have lost their leader a couple of cycles back and they went from being really good to provide poor results.

Worried, the executives looked for a new leader amongst the team members and without asking they selected someone according to potential. Love for money was bigger than love for what the person did, especially when it was not in this person´s career path or interest to become a manager, still accepted the offer. It was then when the team went from poor results to no results at all. Communication and collaboration were the first to suffer, this made velocity and effectiveness of the team decrease taking them to a dead-end of demotivation.

Looking at this, a phrase kept haunting my head:

“The bee stings only who clumsy handles it”


Bees are eusocial insects. This means that they have a social organization based on specialties. And given their long life, it is easy to find different adult generations sharing the same environment in the comb.

There is only one queen bee, who not only drives the comb through own developed chemical products but also with a fertile group of males she is in charge of growing the comb. A group of specialized bees takes care of the grubs while another two groups take care of protection and food. It seems that they are very clear that doing a good job will translate into a major good for each bee in the comb.

Each bee is selected to become a certain specialty. Even when the queen bee gets sick, a larva is selected according to the potential to be fed only with royal jelly. With time this larva will become the next queen bee.

If our friend Abraham Maslow (1908-1970) were watching the bees with us, he´d sure tell us that bees cover all the different levels in his pyramid:


Maslow´s pyramid of needs

James McGregor (1918-2014), will surely tell us that they have surpassed transactional leadership to use a leadership normally called Transformational (also known as charismatic leadership). It is based merely on trust and people growth to achieve company success.

If you could hear this type of leadership it will sound like this:

  • I understand that you were not able to complete all the work in the last sprint. What do you need to achieve this goal next sprint?
  • The goal looks ambitious, but I trust that you all will give your best. Each of you gives a special value to the end result.
  • The new team member has a big potential to be a leader, let´s invest in education and assign a coach that can evoke transformation in him, this way he will be an inspiration to the rest of the team.
  • We are all part of the same organization and our mission guides us, if you see an improvement in the process, please let us know as soon as possible this way you will also make other peer´s life better.

Some authors agree that transformational leadership inspires alliances among team members when facing commitments in common. This is why it is so important for the leader to believe in the goals established and the capacity of the team to meet them. And with a huge charisma, great communication skills, and enthusiasm pursue them.

This type of leadership can work when:

  • The path to keeping current results is well known and the company is looking for an integral transformation to improve current operation. Like companies with constant innovation.
  • Failure is well accepted since it is taken as a door to improving and better results. Environments, where short-term retrospectives are applied and follow ups of action items from these retrospectives, are actually applied.
  • There are small teams with members of different areas or specialties that work together to achieve small, incremental results. With a good focus on relationships amongst them and other stakeholders. Very useful on agile methodologies.
  • Company culture demands to always care for people before results since they are the key to success.

Some disadvantages:

  • Transformations take time. People will have to wait to see the expected results live.
  • Not all executives have a high tolerance for failure, which can derive into problems of expectation management.
  • If people are not motivated or aligned with the main goal, most probably results will not be the ones expected.
  • Not all leaders are transformational and not all potential leaders are willing to lead in this way. It takes too much bravery and first the leader will have to go through a transformation himself/herself. And if one of these non-transformational leaders is allocated in front of a team with this needs, flow and harmony will fail.
  • The morality of people is part of the game. If it is low there is a big chance that the system is abused. This is normal to see when teams are immature.

Some advantages:

  • There is a big focus on human beings and soft skills development.
  • The leader is a living example that makes people better by believing in them.
  • By believing blindly in the company and the employees, there is an immediate increase in self-esteem. This translates into better productivity and bigger benefits for all.
  • Attrition is reduced, and ownership is increased.
  • There is a corporate learning that allows a constant growth.

Some people think that this kind of leadership is an evolution of transactional leadership. Reality is just that they are different. When I remember my client, I remember that yes, the team found their path again. The new leader was granted a lot of patience and training. It wasn´t until he was granted transformational coaching that he became a leader to the service of others.

And like a queen bee risks everything for her comb, the new leader understood and applied the very wise words of Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962):

“To handle yourself use your head, to handle others use your heart”

Have you seen or lived in a honeycomb? or maybe you have met this type of leaders? what is the trace they left you with?


Comments (1)

An impressive share, I just given this onto a colleague who was doing a little analysis on this. And he in fact bought me breakfast because I found it for him.. smile. So let me reword that: Thnx for the treat! But yeah Thnkx for spending the time to discuss this, I feel strongly about it and love reading more on this topic. If possible, as you become expertise, would you mind updating your blog with more details? It is highly helpful for me. Big thumb up for this blog post!

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