The Bee, the Brain, & the Bully

Leadership is as diverse as the individuals who exercise it. We influence through distinct talents, shaped by experiences, personality traits, core values, and an endless list of other factors. Nonetheless, when we look back at the leaders we’ve encountered, it’s easy to identify behavior trends that point to a set of defining leadership styles. The aggressive risk taker. The deliberate planner. The encouraging coach. The intense micromanager.

Each profession has its own set of styles that generally lead to success. The military is no different. Here are three types of military leaders you’ll find that, for better or worse, produce results.

A Marine points in the direction of the next objective on a security patrol during an Integrated Training Exercise aboard Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif., July 19, 2015. Link to photo.

“The Bee”

The Bee is the leader who is in the office at 0400, leaves at 2100, and leads at 110 mph while he’s there. He’s an overachiever who drives the organization through sheer force of will. In organizational leadership terms, The Bee is known as a pacesetter.

If in a significant leadership position like command, The Bee will dart from meeting to meeting, range to range, subordinate command to subordinate command, engaging with troops and giving rapid-fire guidance. If in a staff position, The Bee will spend most of the day furiously creating products, tweaking PowerPoint slides, and slinging out emails in a mad rush to meet the flood of tasks with an equally opposing level of staff activity.

You may find that The Bee is an extrovert, motivated and energized by the high number of people he can visit with and coach every day. The Bee will often sacrifice personal comfort to maintain his pace of leadership. He’ll forget to eat, sleep too little, and may end up cranky because of it. The Bees I’ve seen in my career, though, are physically fit because they approach fitness with as much vigor as they do leading.

One problem with The Bee is that he sees his time in the leadership position as a sprint, when the rest of the team sees a marathon. As the commander, he may run at 110 mph but the staff only runs at 80. This disconnect will always be frustrating for The Bee. Reality will never match up to the high-paced vision he has for the organization.

In the end, The Bee is a positive leader who influences through motivation and constant growth. He spreads this attitude around the formation and inspires people to do more and become more than they thought possible. Higher commanders recognize this effect and appreciate not only that The Bee is accomplishing the mission, but that he is building a motivated team in the process.

“The Brain”

The Brain leads through intellect. She thinks about success in terms of process-refinement and builds highly functioning teams by solving problems and removing obstacles. The Brain is the smartest gal in the room but doesn’t hold it over her people’s heads. She leads by asking challenging questions, inventing creative solutions, and spending time to educate and coach subordinates.


The Brain will challenge your assumptions and ask you to back up your recommendations with facts. She remembers and often references doctrine as a baseline standard for performance. When asked a question, The Brain will think first, then speak.

The Brain usually has lots of feedback for the group and can tell you how to do your job before you even start thinking about it. This can be good and bad. Good, because The Brain comes up with insight that your inexperience prevents you from seeing. Bad, because you don’t get to learn the lesson on your own. The Brain really resonates with followers who learn by observing. But for those who learn by doing, The Brain can be frustrating because her poignant questions and good ideas often prevent people from learning through failure.

Whereas The Bee focuses on the activity at hand, The Brain considers how all the unit activity fits together to achieve the mission. The Bee gets antsy in meetings; The Brain does not. The Brain will read the operations order and all the annexes; The Bee will likely not. The Brain needs to prioritize her personal calendar and plan the day; The Bee will jump right in and not look up until the day is over.

Higher commanders love The Brain because she gives exceptional counsel. She is a confidant who puts things in perspective. You’ll find The Brain attending advanced schooling and excelling in Commander’s Initiatives Groups.

Sometimes a leader will exhibit the best aspects of both The Bee and The Brain. We call these leaders superstars. They can do it all. And you’ll often see leaders transition from Bee to Brain as they move from the hands-on tactical leadership of the lower ranks to the systems-oriented landscape of the higher ranks.

Finally, it’s important to note that The Bee and The Brain both possess a key personality trait which prevents them from digressing into this third type of leader.

“The Bully”

Just like The Bee and The Brain, The Bully gets the mission done (otherwise he’d never climb the ranks). The Bully just gets it done at the expense of his followers, leaving them personally worse off. You’ll commonly see The Bully display the work ethic of The Bee. He’s an overachiever but fails to notice when he’s destroying people and teams. He sees his own activity in competition with his team’s work and is afraid his followers will outshine him.

The Bully relies heavily on experience over logic and fails to capitalize on the formation’s potential. What results is a high-paced, “directed course of action” leadership environment. When capable subordinates try to tell The Bully that the team is stretched too thin to implement his latest good idea, The Bully barks, “Get it done, anyway!”

The Bully feels the same tension that The Bee feels when the team isn’t sprinting as fast as he is. What The Bully can’t understand is that the team will never reach that pace. Consequently, he berates and belittles them.

There are three reasons Bullies continue to get promoted. First, Bullies drive organizations to produce (though they take all the credit when talking to outsiders). Second, their higher leaders are too busy to investigate what is really going on in The Bully’s formation, seeing only the results. (A boss of mind once said, “You can fool your boss, but you can’t fool your peers or subordinates.”) Third, ranking Bullies see themselves in others and promote the behavior.

The Key Difference

Here’s what separates The Bee and The Brain from The Bully. They have emotional intelligence which allows them to feel empathy for their people. They run fast and they outthink their people, but they can sense the limits of their formation’s capability. Then they coach and mentor to close the gap. They ask for feedback and consider it when leading. Even in the midst of a hectic schedule, The Bee and The Brain stop to celebrate milestones and personal achievements. And they know their own success depends on how successful their people are, then highlight those successes to anyone who will listen.

What type of leader are you?

What leadership type are you? Have you thought about it lately? Here are some questions to consider as you strive to be a little less Bully and a little more of anything else:

  • What methods can I employ to discover what my people are really experiencing under my leadership?
  • In what ways can I bring forth the talent of those around me?
  • How can I create an environment that invites collaboration, creativity, and feedback?
  • What triggers can I emplace to find out when the formation is stretched beyond capacity? How would I know?
  • How can I maintain a personal connection despite my high pace of activity?
  • How should I shape my performance evaluations to discover the Bullies in my formation?

What other leadership types have you identified in your career? Leave a comment below.

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