Every organization has leadership, in some form or another. The quality of this leadership may leave a lot to be desired, or perhaps it is ostensibly amazing. Most leaders see the value in improving themselves, as well as the organizations they pilot. The challenge many of them face is seeking out the pain points and beginning their strategy from there.

4_stagesThe problem with this approach, is it is an external one that doesn’t take into consideration the natural tendency of leadership – whether it is a single individual or a large executive team. Organizational culture plays a big role in this and it often goes unseen in most companies. At which stage you find yourself, and your organization, will also influence the kind of culture you will be able to develop and maintain.

Each leader is different and they have a different threshold for ambiguity, creative tension and uncertainty. Based on their predilection, they will lead according to what seems right. All the best intentions, but woefully unaware of what really matters and the influence it has on the success of the organization.

There are 4 distinct stages of leading and each one is successive of the one before. This progressive advancement from one level to the next comes with maturity and a willingness to admit where you are, where you want to be, and where your organization needs to be next.

  1. Primal Stage – This is along the same line of thinking as the lizard brain. It is more reactive, than it is responsive. Even when it is responsive, it is from addressing problems which present themselves in the form of pain, failure, or surprise. Immature and inexperienced leaders, as well as selfish and arrogant leaders can find themselves in this place.
  2. Comfort Stage – Many times leaders find themselves in a place where they gain satisfaction from things staying the way they are because it’s simply comfortable. It could be from a lack of confidence, or perhaps they just weathered a difficult change and they want to coast along in still waters for awhile. Often times this stage is perpetuated and enforced by policies and procedures as a means of being safe.
  3. Striving Stage – Often, leaders see the need and value in being more purposeful in their efforts. They welcome divergent views and ideas, as well as facilitate more open communication. They are aware of the needs to have better engagement as well as a stronger and more purposeful culture. Their leadership, as well as leadership development programs, tend to reflect this view. These actions are often done as an attempt to improve performance because their is greater awareness of how these things contribute to enhanced organizational performance.
  4. Strategic Stage – When leaders reach this stage, they experience a significant change in how they lead and how their organizations function. There is a deeper understanding of how leadership, culture and engagement influence the bottom line and overall health of the organization. Instead of trying to improve these areas independent of one another, they are used one in conjunction with the others to achieve organizational strategy. In other words, strategy is developed through and by these areas as a means to gain the most momentum from things that will always be at work within the organization.

In my experience, most organizations have leadership that fall somewhere around the Comfort Stage or the Striving Stage. I have yet to see any organization move more than one stage at a time and each stage change took a significant amount of effort and time to effect that change. Sometimes a change in leadership had to happen in order for that change to take place.

Leadership change doesn’t have to be the only course (in the sense of getting new leaders in place). The leadership change that is ideal is that the existing leaders change how they view their leadership and become more aware of which stage they are in and begin to work towards moving into the next stage.

Don’t just change because things are bad. Understand how your leadership and your organization approaches challenges by knowing which stage you’re in…then you can prioritize how to best move forward.

Which stage best describes your leadership?