Week 2 — Leadership Lessons from the Locust

Teams. What are they for? Do I really one? Can’t I just go at it on my own?

Those were just some of the thoughts that went through my mind as I sat on my bed. It was a time of contemplation on teamwork and the necessity in gathering a band of soldiers to accomplish a particular vision.

Then this quote came into my mind:

“ The locusts have no king, yet go they forth all of them by bands”- Proverbs 30:27

That got me thinking about what I could possibly learn from the pesky locust. You see, locusts are terrifying to farmers, they possess the ability to maul through acres of agricultural fields and leave farmers with absolutely nothing to sell or eat. Just put yourself in their shoes for a little while. Imagine your luscious green plot of vegetables decimated in the matter of days by a swarm of locusts.

Although these agricultural pests clearly aren’t welcomed, but they possess an extraordinary ability of cooperation. Like proverbs mentioned, they don’t have a king, yet they move together as a collective. They do not question the objective, they simply find a way to get it done.

Yes, as human beings we operate differently from locusts; we have the innate ability to question, process situations and on top of that, we were made to be creators (not just destroyers like locusts are). So, how do we as leaders attain that level of cooperation in our own teams that the locusts have demonstrated so brilliantly?

  1. Hiring the right people

A CEO commented that a bad hire doesn’t actually cost a company $60,000 a year, it actually costs a company millions of dollars of potential revenue. Usually an interview process takes about 2 hours and then the HR team makes a decision based on the interview process and the resume that the applicant has sent over. That actually sounds ludicrous to me because you’re basing millions of dollars on a 1–2 hour interaction with the candidate that is rarely the true indicator of an individuals ability and personality. Something has to be changed about this process.

2. Personality profiling

As business owners, profiling an individual’s personality isn’t something discriminatory or morally wrong. It’s actually incredibly useful and can really aid in your hiring process. Understanding what kind of personalities you’re looking for is key to filling a role. If you’re looking for a salesperson, you want someone confident with a strong ability to relate to someone and empathise with your customers.

You might choose a different personality criteria when looking for a customer service officer or front desk worker. You would need someone more social, understanding and less domineering.

Another factor to consider in regards to personality would be understanding the candidate’s inclination to choosing a particular thought process. Last week, in my venture building programme in NTUitive, we were put through an exercise where we had to quickly plan a movie with the goal of making $20 million. That simple exercise was crucial in demonstrating the different types of thought process used. Analytical, structural, conceptual and social were the main 4 categories that was mentioned.

Having a mix of different personalities and thought processes would be beneficial for any team. Yes, sometimes discussions can get quite hectic and all over the place, but the onus is on the leader to guide the conversations to an eventual goal. On the other hand, having a lack of diverse personalities and thought processes can result in one-dimensional discussions and might be hard to drive creativity juices through the team.

3. Extreme Ownership

In order to execute a high level of cooperation, a strong leader is required to take charge of the team. This concept of extreme ownership is spoken about in great detail in Jocko Willink and Leif Babin’s best-selling book called Extreme Ownership where they elaborate repeatedly that there aren’t bad teams, just bad leaders.

As leaders of highly performing SEAL teams, both men had to adopt the doctrine of extreme ownership in multiple operations where they were responsible (directly or indirectly) for the lost of men under their leadership. Are you constantly blaming your team for their lack of competence? Have you adequately trained them to a point of proficiency? Have you placed processes to guarantee their success?

You get my point. Leaders are responsible for your team’s success and failure.

Leadership isn’t glamourous, it often times goes unnoticed. It’s especially difficult when a plan goes wayward, resulting in huge losses to hold your hand out and admit you made mistakes as a leader. But it is crucial to do that if you desire to earn respect and achieve the level of cooperation that the locusts exhibit.

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