The Business Lessons from Ants

The Business Lessons from Ants

In this Harvard Business Review piece, I wrote on how we could learn from ants to become better leaders. I was on a trip to a leadership workshop of IEEE (Institute of Electrical & Electronics Engineers). As the then-GOLD Chair of IEEE Boston Section, the largest section in U.S., I was responsible for managing MIT, Harvard and other universities in New England. Here are the key attributes of ants: teamwork, trust, openness, diligence, and tenacity.

As I watched them, the theses project flashed to my mind. Wouldn’t it be good to trust others to help you? Right there, I made the following decisions on the project:

The ants worked as a team: I will form a team, bringing professionals together.

The ants trusted one another: I must do away with the notion that only by working alone can I ensure quality.

The ants were open: I will share the idea with like-minded people. I later got a Boston area professor to lead the design. When ants discovered food, they informed others, who came along and helped.

The ants were partners and of different sizes: I will bring help and make the task our project, not mine. As much as possible, each team member will get assignment based on his capability.

The ants were diligent and focused: The team must keep working, even slowly. Deadlines will give us focus.

The ants regrouped: I will be open to try new ideas if present ones are not working.

Few days later, the Catholic Church picked the piece and integrated it into a leadership manual. Mumbai’s DON BOSCO’S MADONNA, a publication of the Catholic Church, still has a link online. There Fr. Erasto Fernandez deepened the piece. It made one of the best articles of the year from the Harvard Business Review with the founding partner of Clayton M. Christensen investment firm using it to explain delegation.

If you can, read that piece. You would become a better Founder. Unless you are Open, you cannot delegate. And until you begin to Trust, you cannot expand the business. When only you is smart [you think], you cannot build a functioning Team. The point is this: that business has not grown because you cannot find someone that can manage an extra branch or responsibility. So, it remains a small shop. Unless you become like an Ant [trusting people, opening up, learning to delegate, forming team spirit, etc], you would remain a shop, small and irrelevant.


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