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Flight of the Bumblebee

Optimize Blog - September 8, 2015 - 0 comments

From the title you might assume that here at Zeitgeist we have become fascinated with orchestral interludes and specifically the one written by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov for his opera The Tale of the Tsar Sultan. Now whilst we can certainly appreciate the work during which the magic Swan-Bird changes Prince Gvidon Saltanovich (the Tsar’s son) into an insect so that he can fly away to visit his father, it is the flight of the real bumblebee that we are more concerned with.
Scientists have long pondered the flight of the bumblebee because apparently they are not really sure how the insect actually manages it and even more so when weather conditions are difficult.
Researchers have spent long hours filming the bees using high-speed cameras in order to replay their flight in very slow motion and to discover how the insects adjust their flight according to the airflow. Interestingly the footage revealed that the bees reduced their speed in unsteady winds, which seemed to allow them to expend more energy correcting their flight path.
The bumblebees also seemed to be more susceptible to disturbances that pushed them sideways as opposed to up and down and they tend to roll considerably to change course and correct for the disturbances induced by the wind.
Remaining steady in adverse weather conditions got us thinking about situational leadership and how leaders remain steady and on course in adverse conditions. In our mind the experiment with the bumblebees provides a metaphor for leadership.
Let’s be honest with ourselves and accept that it’s way easier to manage in good times than tough times and in tough times all eyes are on the leader and how the leader behaves has a tremendous impact on the team.
So what does it take to lead effectively in tough times? Research into leadership over the past 60 years, consistently shows that two broad dimensions describe effective leadership. The most effective leaders have strengths in both dimensions. The task management dimension has to do with the leader’s ability to set goals, organize efforts, direct activity, provide corrective feedback and set the general focus of efforts. The people management dimension recognizes the importance of communication, motivation and encouragement.
The ability to set the emotional tone of the workplace and inspire greater effort from others is the hallmark of a transformational leader. Operating in a stressful environment actually tends to increase the leaders impact. People look to leaders more in hard times, partly as a product of the ambiguity that adversity creates.
In addition to the task and people management dimensions, self-management is crucial to effective leadership. This includes not only managing your behavior in ways conducive to more positive morale and action from your people, but helping them to manage their own attitudes and behaviors towards appropriate outcomes.
It’s natural for people to feel powerless and victimized in tough times, so it is important for the leader to help his or her people shift from the mindset of the passive victim observing things from the sidelines to that of the athlete playing the game. Keep the team focused on the fact that we always have choices and that, although we may not always control the final score, we do control how we play.
Our final point, that may be the most central one to effective leadership, is the recognition that you are the role model. You set the tone. If you are positive, confident and optimistic, your people are likely to behave the same way. If you display focus and determination, they are likely to follow suit.
Just like the bumblebee buffeted by winds, we need to slow down and take corrective action, roll with the impacts and remain focused on our direction and goals.

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