Leadership – Seasons and Cycles
Nature follows rhythms, and over the course of a lifetime we move through different seasons and cycles. These patterns become recognisable and familiar, and we learn to anticipate what is to come and adapt to the changes.
Just as there are seasons and cycles in nature, the same holds true for our professional lives. Spring is a time of newness and growth. Summer is when energy is at its highest and everything comes into bloom. Autumn is the time to gather the fruits of your labours, and winter is when we slow down and conserve energy in preparation for the following spring, and the beginning of a new cycle.
As a leader, it is important to ask yourself which season you are in. Most people want to be perpetually in spring or summer. This is because in spring and summer everything feels exciting and productive, and there is still a lot to look forward to.
By the time you get to autumn, although you are able to reap the benefits of your hard work there is a sense that things are slowing down and that winter is coming. As any Game Of Thrones fan knows, this means hardship lies ahead.
In my experience, when asked what season they are in, the majority of people answer ‘autumn’. This can seem like a difficult place to be, because the feeling is that there is nothing more that can be achieved, and things are only going to get tougher.
I do have clients who tell me they are perpetually in summer. This might seem to be the ideal, but by insisting it is always summer these people are often refusing to face up which season they are actually in.
Positive thinking has its place, but if the reality is that you’re in the middle of a harsh winter then telling yourself it’s high summer isn’t going to do you any good.
The truth is that no one has ever achieved anything from simply thinking positively. There is a widely held belief that the universe won’t send you anything unless you ‘manifest it’ through your thoughts and attitude. It’s a nice idea, but the universe is not going to send you anything if you’re not doing anything, no matter how positively you think.
What all of this means is that fighting against the seasons and the cycles isn’t the best approach. Understanding, acknowledgement, and acceptance are likely to serve you far better in the long term. Great leadership means recognising where you are, as well as where you want to be.
Acquiring the necessary intelligence to see ‘what is’ and having the ability to take appropriate action are the things that will create success. This all comes back to self-awareness and reflection.
People come up with stories because they’re afraid to fail. They tell themselves that endless summer equates to success, but by doing so they miss out on the fact that every season has its purpose and its place.
Rather than protecting themselves and improving their circumstances, they intentionally avoid or reject information that would help them to monitor their progress .
Every season brings benefits and challenges. The greater your awareness and acceptance of which season you are in, the greater your ability to account for the negatives and focus on the positives.
For example, rather than resisting winter because it is a time of scarcity, focus on restoring your energy. This will mean you are well prepared for the spring when it arrives.
It’s all about taking advantage of the circumstances. The best results are achieved through being prepared and dealing with ‘what is’, rather than resisting where you are because it isn’t where you want to be.
When you see things as they are, you are able to create a vision for where they can go, and this allows you to turn that vision into a reality. It’s all about planning ahead, and you can’t plan ahead if you don’t know where you are.
Kappes and Oettingen found that positive fantasies which idealise the future are found to be inversely related to achievement over time: the more positively the fantasies are experienced, the less effort do people invest in realising these fantasies, and the lower is their success in achieving them .
This is because each season requires you to pay attention and be present, so you can carry out the tasks that need to be performed: planting in spring; nurturing in summer; harvesting in autumn; and restoring in winter.
Each season also requires you to plan ahead, so that you are prepared for what is to come. If you don’t gather the fruits and seeds in autumn, you will have nothing to see you through the winter, and nothing to plant the following spring.
Great leadership isn’t about positive thinking. It’s about positive action. When it comes to the seasons of your business cycle, you can battle against where you are and use up your energy getting nowhere fast. Or you can listen to the rhythms and learn how to dance.
- Webb, T., Chang, B. and Benn, Y. (2013). ‘The Ostrich Problem’: Motivated Avoidance or Rejection of Information About Goal Progress. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 7(11), pp.794-807.
- Kappes, H. and Oettingen, G. (2011). Positive fantasies about idealized futures sap energy. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 47(4), pp.719-729.