The Leadership Lifecycle
The natural stages of leadership are discovery, growth, maturity and legacy. This “lifecycle” is an important sequence of steps that can’t be accelerated. Rather, each stage must be embraced and nurtured as a leader gradually develops on the path to his or her full potential. What stage are you in? And how can you best make the transitions from one stage to another? Listen as Bill and Ralph discuss and offer suggestions to effectively manage your leadership lifecycle.
Bill Berthel: Welcome to the Get Emergent Podcast, where we discuss leadership concepts and best practices. We like to provide ideas, concepts, and pragmatic experiments to help you develop as a leader. I’m Bill Berthel.
Ralph Simone: And I’m Ralph Simone. If today, I just can’t wait. I couldn’t wait for today, we’re gonna be talking about a topic that I have no idea yet what I’m gonna say.
The life cycle of a leader. So, can you tell me what we mean by that so I can contribute?
Bill Berthel: Yeah, absolutely. So I think you know that old story, I think a lot of people have heard the story about the little boy that finds the butterfly cocoon, you know, maybe it was attached to a branch and it blew down in a storm, and he’s super curious.
He doesn’t even know what he has. He’s really curious about this cocoon that he finds and he holds it in his hand and the warmth of his hand starts to make the cocoon wiggle a little bit, right? He notices in a small crack, he figures out what he has and he’s so curious. Well, telling the rest of the [00:01:00] story is just morbid, isn’t it?
Right? We know that he forces the cocoon open prematurely and well, that’s not so good for the butterfly. Everything has a life cycle, and this can sound awfully morbid Sometimes we don’t think about this biological model too frequently in relationship to leadership, and I think it really could serve us as leaders to think about the natural stages of a leader, the life cycle of a leader.
Ralph Simone: So when we talk about it, are we talking about it in terms of helping leaders make the necessary transition?
Are we talking about it to help them think of evolution of their leadership and are we also thinking about it so that they don’t have an expiration date?
Bill Berthel: Well, let’s not go to the expiration date. Maybe there’s a best-used-by date. No, no, totally joking. I think the first piece, you said, Ralph, right?
There’s an important order. Maybe it’s an evolution, but it’s an important sequence that just like the cocoon can’t [00:02:00] be prematurely accelerated. Each step, each phase of this growth or development. If we think of it as that, a development cycle, really needs its appropriate time and development to get to that next level of leadership.
Ralph Simone: So for example, there’s self-leadership as an individual contributor. Love it. And then you become a supervisor for the first time. Is that the next stage in the life cycle of leadership? And if so, what does that individual need to be mindful of to be successful?
Bill Berthel: So, yeah, I think so. I think we could really relate to those traditional, almost hierarchical steps that might take place, right?
You might start an organization as an individual contributor, not necessarily, but oftentimes we start there in an organization and then with some potential, which leadership potential really means the ability for future work, the likelihood, right, for that [00:03:00] future work. There might be some potential noticed in you as an individual contributor, and you may move to the role of a supervisor where now perhaps you’re not just responsible for your individual contribution, but your success might then be measured through the success of others.
That could be one step, right? In this cycle or in this phase. When we look at the biological models, there’s often four or five stages in a life cycle, and now I think we can learn something from that to not overcomplicate the leadership life cycle model, if you will, that we can look at, you know, kind of an earlier stage, like in biological models.
This is often birth or the beginning and so you know, where does that start for the leader? It might be just what we were talking about, that first opportunity to self-lead and then move into leadership with and of others. So in biology, it’s often thought of as birth, but I think in [00:04:00] leadership it’s discovery.
We’re really discovering our own capacity and potential for leadership, and it’s getting noticed by others in the organization.
Ralph Simone: Well, it almost seems that we’re sometimes discovering that we need to do different things or do something differently in order to be successful in that new transition. And so it’s really the birth of new skills.
Bill Berthel: Really is new skills, new ways of working, right?
New metrics of success, right? Building success with and through others, you know? So typically after birth comes growth, right? That growth part of the cycle. Oftentimes, that’s one of the most significant in time we think for leaders, it’s all about growth or development. If we call it the development phase of the cycle, and arguably development never stops.
But this is really that early second phase of focused development of the leader, intentional focused, development of that leader. The continued practice of leadership [00:05:00] to the attainment of mastery, if we wanted to call it that higher level of development.
Ralph Simone: So if we go back to the little boy example with the cocoon, there’s gotta be an element of curiosity to kind of fuel this ongoing growth and development, along with the patience, it seems like, not to accelerate the process too much.
Bill Berthel: So I think that’s perhaps what we sometimes don’t quite get, right. I think we, uh, and me included, I’m not throwing stones here, me included, as we sometimes want it a little faster than it’s coming more naturally.
Perhaps it’s less of a mindset of giving ourselves the opportunity to practice. And, uh, it’s a little bit more of, so what’s the next step? Right? What’s the next step? In the book Transitions by William Bridges, uh, he shows one of my favorite quotes, not in his goals, but in his transitions. Man is Great, and I love that idea.
It’s not necessarily about those goals, but it’s in how we [00:06:00] transition and making sure that we’re patient in that curiosity and taking time to have those transitions, those meaningful transitions in our development.
Ralph Simone: So there’s discovery, growth. What would you suggest is the next life cycle of leadership?
Bill Berthel: I think it’s maturity. The maturity of the leader means that they’re well developed, not finished developing. I don’t, I’m not suggesting the steps in the life cycle, just like in a biological life cycle, that organism is still living through that whole cycle, but in maturity the leader is very well developed and now investing time and energy in actively developing others, right?
This is the coach, this is the mentor. So it’s that next step of really focusing on developing, scaling his or her leadership through the development of others.
Ralph Simone: So this might be a stretch, but it’s reminding me of Covey’s work in the seven habits, in the maturity continuum. There are three levels of maturity.
There’s dependence. We all come into this world dependent, [00:07:00] then we learn some skills to become independent. But the highest level of maturity in his continuum is interdependence. where we do it together. The other made up word that we’ve been talking around a lot about lately, we right me and we combined. So at that level of maturity, we see the interdependence, we see our role, sounds like, changing to be more a developer of people than a doer of things at that point.
Bill Berthel: I don’t think that’s a stretch at all. I think that’s exactly it. Covey’s life cycle model. I’m putting air quotes around that Our, our listeners can’t see that. That has three phases. and that most mature phase is that interdependency.
That’s borrowed from natural life cycles as well. So oftentimes the mature individuals of that species are truly helping that entire, whatever it is, heard or flock to be able to survive by passing on not just its genes, but its abilities, it’s skills, it’s knowledge. It’s truly happening [00:08:00] in the natural world.
Ralph Simone: So mentoring and transfer of knowledge, right? For sustainability. So then is there a cycle after maturity?
Bill Berthel: There is, and we believe it’s legacy. This fourth phase is closely related to that previous maturity phase, but this is focused on legacy and you know, leaders who attain this phase, they’re legacy focused in that they’re actively securing the environment, the resources, the people for sustainability of what they’ve built or have contributed to.
It’s not only instilling leadership in others, but it’s also leaving what will be needed for those future generations of people to really carry on that mission, carry on that work, carry on. That leadership.
Ralph Simone: Sounds like an element of selflessness. It sounds like being a good steward of what you will be leaving behind, and it sounds like something that people look at towards the end of their career as a result of being it the end of the life cycle. [00:09:00]
Bill Berthel: I think that’s certainly one way to look at it. I think many leaders have, I’m gonna say multiple lives, putting air quotes around that, where they may experience these phases in an organization and then move to another organization and experience something like those phases yet again.
So I don’t think it’s necessarily attached to age, but it could be attached to experience.
Ralph Simone: So as I’m thinking about this, I’m wondering, you know, with those four cycles in mind, you know, what guidance, what suggestions would we make to leaders as they make those transitions? As I was asking the question, I was thinking of, maybe you should start out earlier by thinking about the legacy so that it informs your thinking and your growth and development in each of the previous phases, what? What would you share?
Bill Berthel: Well, so I think that’s one of the wisest use of models, right? Back to Covey, keeping the end in mind. [00:10:00] And so it’s being highly aware of an intentional of that ending. You know, in this case, if it’s a legacy-driven leadership, you know, or perhaps it’s a maturity-ending leader.
in the current role that you’re in, in the organization and you’re seeking your next chapter in a, in a different organization. I think the first step is really identifying where you are in the model and being able to have that opportunity to focus on, you know, so what does that mean for me in my leadership?
And if I’m very early, either in my role in my organization or early in my leadership career. That sounds like discovery. So what is it about leadership? How do I attach to my values, my vision, my leadership purpose? So I’m stepping into this space authentically. If you identify more with that development phase where you’re in that growth phase, and my gut is the majority of leaders listening, are probably in that phase, it’s about the intentional development of your leadership skills and [00:11:00] abilities.
What would it take to close the gap on specific leadership attributes that are important and meaningful to you? So I think it’s identifying with your own state in that lifecycle path.
Ralph Simone: So it seems like there would be different skills, different application of time and energy. Perhaps different work values that would be emphasized in each of these different stages or cycles. Is that true?
Bill Berthel: Absolutely. Absolutely. I think each one brings unique focus that builds upon the last and prepares for the next.
Ralph Simone: How would we suggest to organizations or leaders, you know, the application of this and how to use it to help scale their leadership, raise their consciousness in, improve the performance of their organizations, what would we suggest?
Bill Berthel: So we’re big fans of, you know, clarifying some expectations, right? Let’s just clarify what, what are the expectations of my [00:12:00] leadership in my role in my organization? And then identifying for myself as a leader. What do I expect from my leadership? I think it’s really important. It’s being intentional with those expectations.
Keeping it simple. It’s not about over complicating this. I think identifying where we are in the life cycle to really attach to, you know, what can I do? Let’s keep that simple. You know, we can be comprehensive about that. But we wanna make sure that we’re not over complicating it. Let’s have the conversations with those around us, those that we’re leading and those that are leading us.
Let’s have those meaningful conversations. Focus on a few development items. It does not have to be a large list of 10 or 12 things. You know, focus on an essential one or two items that you’ll be developing or, focusing on wherever you are in this life.
Ralph Simone: Earlier you talked about Bridge’s, work on transitions.
What would be some indicators that people are either struggling with or [00:13:00] are handling the transition from one of these cycles to the next? What would we be looking for?
Bill Berthel: So what I so appreciate about Bridge’s work in transitions is that he kinda flips it for the way many of us think, is that the next best step is actually identifying and cherishing the ending of the previous step. And in first doing that, that’s a strategic pause that causes us to just slow down a bit and enter that space of intentional reflection. Here’s why we avoid this space, sometimes it can be a little confusing as Bridges shares. It doesn’t feel as actionable as jumping to the next opportunity.
And that’s why we take this strategic pause. And then we have the opportunity to really create a better new beginning. And so it flips it for me because I like to, and as I think many of us do, is what’s next? Jump to that next. That next opportunity.
Ralph Simone: It reminds me [00:14:00] right, that was a line from the West Wing that the president was always saying, what’s next?
Right? We’re always on to the next thing. So one of the things that came up for me when you’re talking about that, is one of the reasons people have trouble letting go of what they used to do in effectively transitioning into this new life cycle of leadership is they haven’t celebrated or ritualized the letting go or the ending of that previous phase. And it is almost like what we do right, in some religions with when someone dies, right. It provides an opportunity to celebrate the life to let go so that you can move forward.
Bill Berthel: Absolutely, identifying with it, recognizing I love celebrating it, right? Ritualizing it.
Sometimes these endings could be a series of endings where we’re missing that. There are multiple either relationships or things ending in that. Making sure that we’re complete in that is important as well, so we can start our next phase or start our next [00:15:00] opportunity more creatively, more informed and ready for what that next opportunity truly brings.
Ralph Simone: Hmm. So you’ve offered throughout this podcast a couple of suggestions for leaders and organizations. Any other suggestions to make around looking at the lifecycle of leadership, looking at this lens through these four cycles of development?
Bill Berthel: So this may be projecting some of my own concerns or resistance too much, but I’m going to share it.
I think we started with this idea of this life cycle of a leader, potentially. I think you said it in jest having an expiration date. It’s not focusing on that. It’s focusing on where am I in this and what is my next best opportunity? How am I bringing others with me? How am I growing and developing others if I’m at that stage?
And I think that’s a weak, if I think most of us are at that stage of bringing others with us. And then, you know, lastly, how am I [00:16:00] ensuring through a legacy mindset or keeping the end in mind that I’m setting up that either future generation or those next individuals with success.
Ralph Simone: I think I may have said it in jest, but I’ve been getting the question a lot because of used best by date of people.
When are you retiring? Or you know, my kids, how are you remaining relevant? And I think there’s some social mirror pressure around that, but I think as long as you identify what phase or what cycle you’re in, and maybe my takeaway from this is making sure I’m bringing other people along for the sustainability and scalability of our organization, because I think I am in the maturity, legacy phases of that life cycle.
Bill Berthel: Yeah. That’s great. Well, there’s a lot of research that suggests those expiration dates don’t have much value, so I wouldn’t worry about ’em too much.
Ralph Simone: Oh, I’m glad. So you could still use me past this date and I still might be okay? I love it. I love it.
Bill Berthel: I think it’s true for most [00:17:00] things, except your carton of milk maybe is what I heard.
Ralph Simone: All right. All right. Well that, that gives me encouragement.
Bill Berthel: thanks for listening to the Get Emergent podcast. And you can listen to a new podcast two times a month here at Get Emergent, where we bring you contemporary leadership topics and ideas, balanced with best practices you can apply in your leadership.
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