Seasons: Honoring Where You Are as a Leader
While many recent social media posts and conversations are yearning for the imminent, ever-popular Fall season, I’m admittedly an outlier. Although pumpkin spice latte has me entranced at the first whiff and subsequent sips, that’s where it stops. Fall brings a bit of sadness as it represents a return to winter. It leaves behind sunny and energetic long days while ushering in the dreaded onslaught of the season that brings cold temperatures, gloomy days and this Southern girl’s nemesis - snow. Friends are quick to remind me that spring will be here again before we know it, and an emergence of new life is just a few months ahead.
As you approach this particular Fall, you may find yourself in the year that has thrust you or your business into an unexpected metaphorical season of decline, mimicking Fall or Winter, or, a spurt of new growth reminiscent of Spring and Fall. This change likely commands an awareness and possible adjustment in your role and calling as a leader. Depending on where your business is and how you respond to any shifts, it may determine the short-term survival and even its ultimate success.
In which of the following scenarios do you find yourself? Do any of the following sound familiar?
How often have you seen leaders hold on to control like they’re still in start-up or early growth mode, even after they’ve hired the right talent to manage the roles and functions? Maybe they’re not still doing the work, but there’s little to no empowerment or decision rights.
How long have leaders you know clung onto the CEO, President or other C-Suite role after the business has outgrown their capabilities? They continue to show up out of a sense of identity, comfort, or lack of awareness and consequently leave resources and more optimal outcomes on the table for the greater good of the organization.
And, what about the leader who’s wedded to the belief that the sale of their business should be tied to their preferred timing vs. the optimal market timing? They want to sell the baby they birthed and raised based solely on their own perfect life storm of retirement.
These are all potentially relatable – either for us personally or in thinking of businesses and leaders we know. Honoring the season we’re in isn’t always easy. Timing and opportunity can get lost due to denial, pride or the lack of honest advisors to hold up the mirror needed to reflect truth.
If any of these examples are recognizable, it may be the perfect time to adjust yourself to the flow of the season in which you find yourself. As Jim Rohn reminded us:
“Life and business are like the changing seasons. You cannot change the seasons, but you can change yourself. Therein lies the opportunity to live an extraordinary life – the opportunity to change yourself.”
Here’s a great start:
1. Stop and force yourself out of the perpetual cycle of busyness and reactivity. Take time away to reflect, meditate, and to hear the beat of the drummer. When you take a pause for the cause and get away from all the noise, you’ll be amazed at what you hear, the insights you glean and the clarity gifted to you.
2. Let go and trust the talent and plan you’ve put in place. Recall what led you to feel confident about the team you’ve hired and built. If you don’t trust them to do the work as planned, then find someone you can. Nothing is more diminishing for team members than having decisions tied to their expertise hijacked by their leaders who claim to practice empowerment and delegation. How does this reflect the legacy you want to leave as a leader?
3. Set realistic expectations of yourself and others. The consummate leader who can weather all seasons of a business is rare. It’s not feasible as a CEO, executive or any leader to be adept at all stages of the life cycle. Neither is it realistic, or always healthy for the organization or culture, to expect replacement at each stage. (Koskela, October 11, 2019, Does One CEO Fit Into All Stages of the Company’s Life Cycle?) As Ewing Kauffman, Kansas City Entrepreneur and Philanthropist, often said, “The smartest thing I ever did was hire people who were smarter than I was.”
Here are a few general competencies and characteristics* of a leader during each life stage of an organization. Knowing your strengths and how they fit the flow of each season of the business can help with your own development, as well as selecting the talent needed to navigate each one.
Conceptualization – Idea Generator, Product Expert, Visionary, Ambiguity-Thriver
Start-up – Business Developer, Stakeholder Influencer, Goal-Creator and Energizer
Growth – Problem-Solver, Brand Evangelist, Leader and Manager
Pre-rapid™ and Rapid Growth – Process Champion, Purpose-Driver, Coach and Strategist, Innovation Encourager (to avoid the next stages)
Maturation and Decline – Administrator and Overseer, Operational and Efficiency Maximizer
*This list is not exhaustive or mutually exclusive, nor does it offer a full explanation of how these characteristics align with each stage.
4. Be honest with yourself about this season of life and business. If you wake up each day unhappy or spending much of your time in a state of dissonance, it may be time to consider this as your Fall or Winter season. Transitioning out of the role effectively will require a thoughtful succession plan. If you’ve practiced the level of over control outlined in the most previous bullet, you may need to allocate extra time recruiting or investing in an internal successor to make your exit as smooth as possible.
5. Practice humility and surround yourself with people who will be challengers, truth tellers and listeners. Make it psychologically safe for them to be brutally honest with you. Other internal leaders, as well as an executive coach and a qualified team of advisors can ask the tough questions while tapping into your inner truth and objectivity, facilitating a less emotional and well thought out exit.
In which season do you currently find yourself? When are you anticipating fall and winter? What changes might you want to make in yourself or your business to either adapt or transition?
Changing with the natural flow of the season you find yourself in is a gift, because “therein lies the opportunity to live an extraordinary life…”