Do you ever feel like this?

I’ve blogged in the past about the fact that we are part ape and part bee.  Not just you and me, but humans in general.  It’s the theory of author and social scientist Jonathan Haidt who says that whilst deep down we are still pack animals, social creatures who need affirmation from our leader, we are also bee like.   Bees work for a common cause, not just for individual recognition.  They don’t compete with each other within the hive.  The hive works together to make honey and ensure the survival of the next generation.

So the ape part of us needs recognition from our boss, the bee part of us loves collaborating to build great stuff.

The ape part of us is more nuanced than you might first think too.  It isn’t just about a top ape conferring credit on the humbler parts of the team.  Apes really care about fairness and about working together too.

Frans de Waal was a professor of primate behaviour at Emory University in Georgia, who died this March.  Till his work in the mid-seventies the prevailing theory about chimps was that the most powerful chimp became the leader, and that their community was based around violence, aggression and selfishness.

But de Waal noticed two young chimps fighting until one won, and the other lost, and retreated to a high branch.  Then de Waal saw something that astonished him and the scientific community at the time.  One held out his hand to the other as if to seek reconciliation.  In a minute they had swung down to the same part of the tree, embraced and kissed.

He rewrote the science beliefs of his era with this and hundreds of experiments and lots of data. According to his obituary in the Economist he passionately believed that it would be good for humanity if “he could convince people that their better instincts – altruism, co-operation, peacemaking – were as innate as violence and competition.”

What is striking about his work is that fairness is crucial to harmony.  This video shows the striking experiment (which is admittedly upsetting because of the caged animals, so be warned) where two capuchins were put in adjacent cages and given the same task to do, to hand stones to the researcher.  At first, they got the same reward – a slice of cucumber.  Then one was rewarded with a grape instead.  When the other monkey noticed this it went wild, hurling the slice of cucumber out of the cage and shaking the bars. 

Transparent, and clear fairness in every workplace is crucial to harmony and productivity.  If you feel your boss has favourites, for reasons that aren’t clear it can make you miserable.  If you don’t know what to do to get into an inner circle that seems to exclude you then it will damage your ability to do great work.

Great leaders know this, and understand how to get the best out of their teams by ensuring that there is a clear light illuminating how things work around the place. 

When you are leading a team, remember the grape, and ensure that you are being completely fair with your praise, rewards and inner circle.

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