16 OCTOBER 2019

Ants, cheer squads, and leadership excellence

Have you ever wondered what the ants are saying to each other?

After a long hiatus, the black ants were back today in our pantry! Most Aussies can relate to the little black ant invasion that occurs usually in the hotter months… they suddenly appear out of nowhere, scurrying around benches, window ledges, pantry shelves and cupboards, and leave us panicking and wondering if there’s a package left open or lid not put on properly that they are going to infest the contents of pretty quickly!

I’ve often watched these tiny little critters, bustling across the benches and up along the walls. There’s always a line of ants following each other on a mission in one direction, and then a line of ants on the exact same trail in the opposite direction, returning back to where they came from. As they pass each other, there’s a little pause, and what seems to me, a little conversation going on before they each go back on their intended paths.

For the ants that seem to be just starting their mission, usually appearing from an invisible hole between the window frame and wall, I wonder whether they are looking for confirmation and assurance from their mates, that the journey ahead is worthwhile and there’s a reward for their risky passage forward, knowing that the humans out there may not be very gracious and kind! Do they hear words of encouragement from those that have gone before them? Are they being cheered on by their peers to not give up and press forward to find the treasure?

“Keep going George! There’s a pile of wholegrain crumbs just back left of the toaster!” “ Mavis, I left you the splodge of raspberry jam on the side of the sink – I know you have a sweet tooth!” “Lizzy, send word back to the others that we need reinforcements! There are enough biscuit morsels to keep us going for a whole month!” “Harry, watch out for the Nespresso machine! The water tank is a trap!”

These curious and somewhat brave little ants, had me contemplating about who we surround ourselves with and what voices are we listening to as we do this thing called life.

As small business owners, we have always been cautious about who we talk to about business ideas, issues, hiccups, setbacks, and struggles. On the same token, we are also very astute as to who we share news with about the wins (big and small), the achievements, the milestones, and our ambitions.

For whatever reason, there are always going to be the critics and naysayers out there who want to see you fall over and fail, pretty much in a spectacular way, and they don’t want to see you achieve anything. I don’t understand why people want to think and behave that way, but they are out there. Maybe one day, this ‘tall poppy syndrome’ culture will be gone.

On the other hand, there are those out there who want to encourage you, cheer you on quietly or cheer you on loudly, give you a hand and help you to stand tall again when you’ve had a stumble, or just brainstorm ideas with you to help your business move in a forward and positive direction.

Today I am thankful and truly grateful for…

Our families. They are the ones who will still hang out with you whenever you need them, laugh with you, listen to you, help you with whatever you need help with, hug you and love you, and play silly games with you to have some much needed fun and silliness, even if the competitive nature is in full swing!

Our close friends. These dear ones know you so well, they don’t care what you look like, (or what your house looks like!), or care about what mistakes you make along the way. They will stick by you through thick and thin, listen when you need it, celebrate the good times, and encourage you in the tricky times.

Our mentors. These wise owls are pure gold. They have lived experiences and life lessons that blow our minds with their wisdom. I wish I could secretly tape our conversations to play back over and over again.

Our peers. Being small business owners, we have made friends with a number of other like-minded small business owners who just ‘get it’. They understand the many hats you have to wear to keep your business going, the internal wrestling with oneself of ‘is this what I really should be doing?’, the desire to want to always help other small business owners because sometimes it’s just hard, and the need to support each other along the way.

I am also thankful for the fact that I get to help and serve others along the way, with the experiences and lessons I have learnt in life, in business, and in friendships. If we can’t pass on our knowledge and lived experiences to others, with a servant heart and an attitude of grace, then what good are we?

So here’s the thing I want you to hear today. I want to encourage you to look around at the voices you are listening to; which ones are helping you, and which ones are hindering you? Which ones do you need more of, and which ones do you need less of?

We need our own tribe, our own cheer squad, our own crazy friends, and our own encouragers. And we need to be the same to others.

In a world that is consumed with communicating through social media, apps, online chatrooms, and the like, are you taking the time to connect with people face-to-face, in real life? Maybe catching up over a meal or a coffee, going for a walk, celebrating special events and helping each other out? We need these connections on a regular basis, dare I say it daily, to not just survive, but to thrive.

Our relationships with each other are imperative; essential to living! We are not made to just look out for ourselves, but to look out for each other, and help and serve each other in whatever way we can.

Take a lesson from the ants. Cheer on your family, your friends, your co-workers, your peers, and whoever else you have surrounded yourself with. And listen to the voices that are unquestionably the most positive and inspiring voices you can find.

A good leader may know how to make and cultivate excellent connections and relationships, but a great leader shows this in their own life and teaches others to do the same.

By Suzanne Watkin

NOTE: Difficulty level to photograph speedy Gonzales ants: HIGH

When all is said and done, leadership is about bringing out the best of, and the best between, one another.