Leadership Lessons From Ants

More and more studies show the similarities between human and animal behavior. This perspective provides important knowledge applicable both at a social level and in the business world.

"Man is a clever animal who behaves like an imbecile."
Albert Schweitzer

In the case of leadership, the behavior of animals and their way of relating to the environment are useful tools to guide managers in the organization of their professional teams. In addition, they can be a motivational reference for those who aspire to become the leaders of the future.

The Suggestion

The idea is that leadership is nothing more than an evolution of the animal instinct that leads us to choose the leader as “head of the pack,” the strongest specimen of the group.

Knowing the various control strategies that occur in the animal kingdom allows company leaders to incorporate the most advantageous practices within their organizations.

The Ant

Ants can seem like a very small and insignificant part of nature to us. However, the fact that they are tiny does not mean that it is useless to study them. Can we learn something about the business world from them?

"Ants have the most complicated social organization on earth next to humans."
E. O. Wilson

Between cartoons, naptime documentaries, and language metaphors, we find that how animals operate is present in business management and administration activities.

Their organizational models, their “economies,” and their ability to relate to equals are used. We like them because we contemplate their behavior through the human eye, and we think that it is similar to ours.

Excellent Teamwork

We can learn from the lessons of ants to carry out projects. Observing a group of them shows you that when one finds food, the others go directly to help him take it home, and if one is injured, they all come together to evacuate and then return to their work as if nothing had happened.

Key Takeaway
Ants help each other wherever necessary.

There may not be as much supervision as needed in the human world, but they do impressive tasks, such as moving pieces of food up to 30 times their sizes and everything apparently coordinated.

If these creatures could be entrepreneurs, they would possibly dominate the entire planet. The good thing is that we can observe them, study them and learn from them. Ants, which we generally ignore and often view as pesky pests, could teach us a few things about leadership.

Great Leadership Skills

Ants live in colonies made up of millions of other ants. For the most part, they have no specific leader, and yet they work together so beautifully.

Key Takeaway
For the most part, ants have no specific leader, and yet they work together so beautifully.

However, in a study from the Ant Lab at the University of Bristol, UK, researchers observed that the ant species Temnothorax Albipennis appeared to have leaders and followers in the search for food.

When the lead ants find a new food source, they rush back to the colony to tell the good news and lead other ants to the source. Suddenly it becomes quite interesting to imagine these lead ants teaching the others as they travel together.

Key Takeaway
Ants share their knowledge with other ants.

Although the queen ant is there, she does not tell the others what to do. Each ant knows its own rules and carries out its tasks faithfully. They can work together effectively because they all have the same goal for the good and unity of the colony.

Organizational and Management Skills

Despite the queen ant, the ant colony is self-managed. The ants have no “captain, no governor, no lord,” but despite this, they work in an organized manner according to common objectives. In this process, the ants do not need authority to monitor and check the work done by each one.

With no leaders, no orders, no plans imposed, and no career orientation meetings, the colony operates quickly and efficiently in the face of changes in the environment. The plans arise spontaneously and are the result of the interactions between the different units that make up the set.

Diligence and Work Ethics

Ants show a great capacity for self-management and autonomy in the work carried out. The ethics of diligence come from within and do not have to be enforced by a supervisor.

Key Takeaway
Ants do not need extra motivation. They are focused on their goal.

Ants operate without anyone having to remind them of their obligations, which translates into efficiency at work and high performance as each one of them has the clarity of the role that they are responsible for performing, as well as to adapt to the changing conditions of the environment. We could say that ants practice self-leadership.

Self Motivation

Do we work voluntarily? Alternatively, do we need someone who is always pushing, encouraging, or telling us to do what we already know we have to do?

It can be said that the ant is self-motivated. It does not require monitoring or follow-up to carry out its work since they work with internal motivation and determination.

In the case of human beings, this level of functioning assumes that the person has assumed the leadership of his life and the responsibility for his performance.

Admirable Characteristics

The list of characteristics of the ants’ mode of work is as follows:

  • They work as a team - not alone or individually.
  • They trust each other - eliminating the idea that only one’s own work ensures quality.
  • They are open - sharing ideas and discoveries with their peers (or, in the case of humans, sharing ideas with people who think similarly).
  • They are partners (in their work) and of different sizes – their idea of being partners is the project is “ours” (not just mine), and we are all partners in it. It is to each according to their abilities and skills.
  • They are diligent and focused - the team must advance in the work, even if it is slow. Deadlines will give the team focus.
  • They regroup when failures or unforeseen events occur – they are open to new ideas when current ones are not working.

Other important elements are that they make decisions as a group and depend on each other to survive.

Lessons to Learn

From the ant, we get these lessons:

  • Teamwork - Each ant is aware of its individual duty in the anthill and does its part. Similarly, a leader must mark the role of an individual and the responsibilities that accompany it.
  • Trustworthiness - An ant is very good at marking the path leading to food. In so doing, this allows all the ants in the colony to follow the path. This develops trust in the ant that marked the path. Likewise, a leader must refrain from micromanaging and trust each individual to deliver optimal performance.
  • Open communication - When an ant leaves the anthill, marking a path is similar to transparent and open communication for fellow ants. In this way, a leader must be honest and open with his communication. A knowledgeable employee is equipped to make the right decision.
  • They have clear objectives - Ants know what they are looking for upfront, they know where they are going, and they are going for it. Similarly, a leader must motivate his team to be hardworking and never lose sight of the goal.
  • They all go the same direction - If you’ve seen a line of ants closely, they blindly follow the ant in front. In this way, a leader must guide and motivate his team to work towards a goal and together move in the same direction to achieve it.

Collaboration and Communication

Highly specialized social and communication networks, sophisticated rules of relationships, roles and government, and, finally, collective intelligence to drive success through collaboration are the leadership lessons that can be learned from an animal as industrious as the ant.

Like the ant, leaders should be able to defend the need to manage commitment as a way to face the profound changes that are transforming the business ecosystem. Today, the true way to achieve successful organizations is through employee loyalty, not customer loyalty. If leaders take care of their employees, they will also take care of their customers.

Working Engagement

Here are six keys to working on engagement like the ant:

  • Transparency – it is noticeable how the ant works because it leaves a trail to be seen by anyone
  • Agility – as small as the ant is, it is quite agile and able to operate in multiple settings
  • Collaboration – the ant collaborate with each other to get things done
  • Innovation – the ant is creative and innovative, finding food wherever it exists
  • Productivity – the ant does not shun hard work and getting things done as needed
  • Engagement in collective intelligence – gathering information to figure out how to carry out each task A leader can learn these working engagement methods from the ant. This can be used to improve his employees and their way of thinking about how to execute their work successfully for the team and company.

Delegating Functions

The ant represents the order and distribution of functions in complex teams. In the animal kingdom, the ant demonstrates how teamwork, collaboration, role assignment, and other skills are essential for survival.

Size is not a weakness when learning to network and generate impact. An isolated ant is lost, but within the system, it can live from two to fourteen years; the queen lives up to 30 years.

The queen ant knows how to delegate the functions so that each member has internalized a responsibility according to their abilities.

In this way, a colony is capable of solving problems that the individual would pose a real threat. That is, the collective provides a power greater than that which they would have in isolation.

Key Takeaway
A single ant is lost, but a colony of ants can accomplish almost anything.

Keep Searching for Solutions

Have you ever noticed that no matter where you put sugar or anything else sweet, the ant will find it? This is because the ant is always searching for food.

In the human world, you won’t find sugar if you’re not looking for it. It is not just you but your entire team. The more people on the team searching for answers, the better is the chance of finding the solution.

Key Takeaway
The ant is always focused on its mission - searching for food.

Searching as an individual means developing personally, reading widely, and exposing yourself to something new and different. Additionally, you should be intentional within your team.

Don’t be afraid to experiment and challenge yourself as a leader. Try different ways to do things and different paths. Maybe it’s time to get out of the routine and take a different approach.

Unity is Strength

As with other colonies of small insects or animals, their obvious power is in their unification. It allows them not only to accomplish their purpose but also to guard themselves against outside dangers.

Undoubtedly, having a cohesive group that faces adversity is one of the major assets for any distinguished leader.

Dedication and Perseverance

A little ant can become a great teacher to show us a lesson in perseverance, confidence, and dedication. When we look closely at these little animals, we will see that despite being so small, we can learn behaviors that will help us achieve our goals. Here are some:

  • Perseverance - No matter how many times the ant has to lift a load much bigger or heavier than it, it will always try to lift it and take it to its anthill, even if the way is difficult and uphill.
  • New Solutions - How many times have we given up and abandoned the task that we set out to carry out? The ant always looks for new alternatives. Ants never give up. This is an excellent attitude. If the ants go to a certain point, and you try to stop them, they will find another way to reach their destination; they will cross over, under, or around your obstacle. They will always keep looking for other alternatives.
  • No Excuses - In the face of an obstacle, what is your attitude? Do you keep wondering why you have to go through this problem, do you regret and look for excuses, or do you just start looking for other alternatives and ways to reach your goal? The ant thinks of winter during summer. That is an important perspective. One cannot be so naive to believe that summer will last forever. That is why ants work and gather their food for when winter comes. The ants know that winter is not eternal either and that sooner or later, the sun will rise, and they will be able to go out to continue their work.
Key Takeaway
The ant never gives up.


For small business owners and leaders across the spectrum, the ants give great lessons. By involving everyone in the organization and trusting each other, you will be more successful as a leader.

You should not think that only you can close the sale, manage employees, install the products and adjust the design. Give others the opportunity to fail or succeed, and always inspire the team to be their best in everything they do.

About the Author
Hi there, I'm James, founder of Melbado. I have over 20 years of experience as a leader and entrepreneur. Recently, I turned to leadership coaching and writing to pass on my knowledge to the next generation. If you have any questions or comments, please contact me via our contact page.


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