One beautiful but windy Fall day you break free from the confines of your job and decide to spend your lunch hour taking a quick hike around the lake next to your workplace.
As you enjoy nature’s splendor, you come across a line of marching ants parading across the path in front of you. Stooping down to observe them, you wonder at the miraculous order to their column, and the seemingly clear purpose which drives their direction. Each ant follows the one in front with equal distance between them and without noticeable deviation from side to side.
“How orderly and controlled,” you think. And though you are aware that all the following ants are using their sensitive antenna to pick up the scent of the pheromone trail laid down by the lead ant, you can’t help but wonder what the lead ant is using to drive such a straight course for all those behind him?
Then suddenly, a quick gust of wind stirs the leaves along the path in such a manner as to drop one directly in the midst of the column of ants. Almost immediately, chaos erupts from the once orderly trail as the parade becomes a scurrying mass behind the leaf, while those in front of it drive on unaware there is a problem.
It is as if the ant in the middle of the chain, upon now finding himself the leader of a new chain, completely panics!
As the new lead ant runs around in dizzying circles, searching either for the former leader’s pheromone trail or physical visibility of the ant that was in front of him in line, he leads all the ants behind him into a chaotic chase.
The outcome of this loss of vision can go one of three ways:
1. The new lead ant will stop moving, recognize the former leader’s pheromone trail has to be around here somewhere, and will use his band in an orderly foraging manner to search for it. The foragers will spiral outward until one detects the trail left by the original line. This ant will lay down its own specially scented “found it” trail which other foragers will find and follow adding their own “found it” scent on top of it as they return to the clustered colony of ants. This now heavily scented detour route will become a superhighway easily followed by the separated colony around the obstacle. By picking up their pace, they will close the distance and rejoin their column.
2. The new lead ant will continue to panic and move in erratic patterns. Inevitably he will stumble onto the pheromone trail of one of the ants in the back of his own line and, finding this security without discernment of whether it is the right trail, will drive the entire column into a loop like a dog chasing its own tail. Eventually this loop will spiral in on itself as each ant blindly follows one another, and they will continue to run around and around in circles until they die.
3. The new lead ant will determine they have reached an epic crisis and go completely nomad. The term for this ingenuitive creature is a crazy ant! I swear, it’s a real ant type, look it up. These ants are adept at adapting to adverse conditions through a process known as budding. As long as the remaining line has what they need to survive, which includes a mated queen and available food resources, they will simply start a new colony from scratch. Finding themselves cut off from their former leader, they will take a quick inventory of their surroundings and resources and, if favorable, will set off on a new journey, building various temporary colonies along the way until finding an ideal spot to build their new home.
So this leads us to a couple of question on how we each respond to chaos in our work lives.
When those who are charged to own the vision of our direction either outdistance us or we find ourselves rather abruptly thrown into a role of leadership, how do we respond?
Once you find yourself broken off from all you’ve known before, what is your first response?
Do you panic, thereby creating chaos for all those behind you now looking to you for leadership?
Do you stop moving and calmly assess the situation?
Do you use your team and their skills to help find solutions to the present problem thereby ensuring team agreement on the next steps?
Do you attach yourself to the first idea that you encounter without discernment just to be following something, thereby ensuring your team continues spiralling into continuous change and chaos?
Do you use the opportunity to review your team’s new potential, bring in any missing elements that you need, and build something brand new?
What kind of ant are you?