Harbinger Consultants

Culture + Complexity + Change

LEAD | Honey bee & locust

This week a colleague reminded us about honeybee and locust leadership approaches. We’d like to think of Harbinger, even as a small organisation, as a honey bee style organisation – with a mindset and approach that is values-driven, that recognises the enterprise cannot be sustainable unless the context in which it operates is sustainble. It is in keeping with learnings from the Adaptive Leadership program Linda recently completed with the Benevolent Society. Wong and Avery have developed the sustainability leadership model using the honey bee and locust as powerful metaphors. These metaphors help us to understand what is needed to promote sustainability in organisations and communities that is based on principles and values. Wong and Avery state that “sustainability in organisation is created when … three components – leadership, corporate strategies and culture – reinforce each other for the long term benefit of multiple stakeholders”.

As people involved in various organisations – providing professional services and governance – we know how difficult it can be to try to align those three components, especially when there is much focus on short term interests and self-interest. Wong and Avery propose that “sustainability should be the intent of an entire existence of an enterprise”. As a corporate strategy, sustainability means adopting a systems or holistic methodology and understanding impact and value. For Wong and Avery, such attention to value and impact sets a virtuous circle in motion. Drawing on the work of Peter Senge, they also present ideas for sustainable leadership and leading through creative tension. Culture is integral – enabling innovation, building trust, cultivating learning and capturing value. This requires work across a whole organisation and a deep understanding of networks and systems.

Avery and Bergsteiner have progressed this thinking about sustainability and organisations to develop a model of sustainable leadership that is based on recognising the differences between honey bees and locusts. The difference between them is described as: “Honey bees build community and ecosystems. Locusts swarm together and eat greenfields bare.” They are enmeshed in our cultural and mythic imaginary: the locusts in plague proportions decimate life and the honey bees as productive pollinators enrich ecologies. The point is to create value for all stakeholders rather than just a limited number of stakeholders. Obviously has significant bearing on governance and requires an ethical stance from both CEOs and Chairs:

In the development of the “honey bee” approach to sustainability leadership, the traditional model of the hierarchical leader with strong authority is replaced by the leader who works in a participatory team environment where goals are created through a collaborative and shared decision-making process. Such an approach is essential to leading in times of uncertainty and flux and where the science and evidence upon which decisions can be made are ambiguous.

This is why stakeholder engagement and public participation are essential dimensions of policy and plan making for sustainability.

For an excellent summary of honey bee and locust leadership, please read Peter Laburn’s blog.


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