The Seasons of Leadership
by Lee J. Colan, Ph.D.
With a longer than usual winter for most parts of the country, I am certainly glad to see spring in full bloom. It makes me more aware of the seasons of life when changes in nature are so visible. It also heightens my awareness of the natural laws that govern our physical lives. You can debate these natural laws all you want, but if you jump off a ten story building, you will quickly learn about the "Law of Gravity."
The "Law of the Harvest" is easiest to see at work in agriculture. If you plant 40 acres of corn, you will not reap 40 acres of tomatoes. It is impossible. How many times do you suppose a farmer goes out in the fall thinking, "I wonder what we are going to harvest this year?" He does not need to ask himself that question, because there is a natural law that is as reliable as the law of gravitywe reap what we sow.
We understand this with trees and crops, but it's harder to understand in leadership (and in life, for that matter). I often hear leaders lament about not understanding why things are happening to them. They say:
- Why isn't my team committed?
- Why is my turnover so high?
- Why is revenue shrinking?
- Why does my team try to undermine each other?
- Why is our company not so fun to work at anymore?
Leaders typically fall into these quandaries because they focus on urgent vs. important activities. Admittedly, leadership is a busy job, and there is always a problem staring us down. Times are changing, but one truth about life and leadership will never changewe reap what we sow for better or for worse.
Spring of Leadership
This is the time to invest in others and work hard on cultivating your team. Your efforts during the spring are a leading indicator of what you will reap in the fall. Do not expect to reap a high-performing team, a strong culture, or a deep talent pool if you have not sown proportionately.
The sowing of spring can be compared to the results of planting an exotic Chinese bamboo seed. When this particular seed is planted and nurtured, it can take up to two years for a sprout to break through the earth. It requires the right watering, sunlight, care, and feeding so it can build a strong root structure and foundation for growth, none of which is visible above ground. However, once it breaks ground, this plant can grow over 100 feet in two weeks! Even though our efforts do not always yield visible results, we must have faith that our investment in our team pays offinitially in terms of building a strong root structure, and ultimately, as a plentiful crop.
Summer of Leadership
This is the time to protect and nurture your investment. Do not wait until the fall reaping to assess how you did. Take a real-time "look back" in the summer of what you could have improved from the spring. Use a simple "Stop, Start and Keep" review of your work. Ask your team:
- What can we stop doing next year that did not add value?
- What can we start doing to improve our service or product?
- What should we keep doing that went well?
Spend the summer integrating what you learned into your team's work processes. The new ideas should become "the way we doing things around here" for the coming season.
Fall of Leadership
Ensure your human and operational systems are ready to reap. In other words, expect good things because of the investment you made in the spring and also prepare your team and your business to handle new levels of production. (See Lessons from the Franchise World to learn about your Business Operating System). Fall brings consequences of your work in spring. Again, do not expect to reap what you did not sow. You will either enjoy fruits of your labor or make excuses for why you are not getting the results you hoped for. Excellent leaders let their actions rise above their excuses.
Winter of Leadership
Depending on how hard you worked to build your team during the spring, your winter can feel short or long. Winter is a time for recognition and reflection. Turn your thoughts of appreciation into acts of appreciation for the results your team produced.
Also, plan for next year by looking at data from your fall "crop". Regardless of how you feel about it, the data do not lie. Did people and systems perform as planned? Did you perform as you planned? Invest now to fill any gapswork on yourself first, then on your team. Pull out the weeds to ensure a healthy spring. Leaders tend to take too short to hire and too long to fire. If your coaching has not yielded positive change, now is the time to make tough decisions about your people and your plans, so you can elevate your leadership later.
Excellent leaders view adversity as a blessing instead of a burden. We do not elevate our leadership in the absence of adversity, rather because of adversity. Adversity helps reveal our true leadership character. Without it we will leave much of our potential untapped.
Seasons dictate a leader's activities, but moments define a leader's excellence. 7 Moments... that Define Excellent Leaders will help you elevate your leadership and multiply your impact through the seasons!