BOOKCASE: Honeybees & Locusts

• By Gayle C Avery & Harald Bergsteiner
• Allen & Unwin
• RRP $49.99

Management metaphors don’t always work too well. Authors get distracted by the need to draw out the parallels. This one works better than many, though in places it wears thin.
Honeybees and Locusts: the business case for sustainable leadership, draws on the age-old symbolism of the creative and destructive practices of these two insects to prove that businesses behave in much the same constructive or destructive ways. Honeybees build community and ecosystems. Locusts swarm together and lay green fields to waste.
The book could be dismissed as just another addition to the growing catalogue of literature promoting sustainable management and leadership practices. But it offers some additional food for thought and practical consideration.
The authors are academics based at Australia’s Macquarie Graduate School of Management and are co-founders of the country’s Institute for Sustainable Leadership. Their credentials are sound. They have come up with 23 practices which they believe drive sustainable leadership. When embedded in the leadership practices of sustainable businesses, these mostly intangible factors can, they argue, result in enhanced business performance.
They effectively challenge many entrenched ideas about leadership. They have, they say, joined the growing army of critics of popular business models that still permeate most global business and political thinking – the model based on the assumption that corporation’s primary purpose is to maximise investor returns.
The analogy with locusts is clear enough. Quarterly reporting and its associated short-term profit demands are essentially destructive. Business must take longer view to remain sustainable. But even sustainability is not the main game. That, the authors suggest, is the creation of enduring value for all stakeholders, including investors, the environment, other species and society.
This particular contribution is sensibly and rationally argued and, once readers move on from the strains of the metaphor, makes an important contribution to the discussion on how leaders must rebuild rather than rape the planet.

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