One of the Toast Note crowd sent me a really thought provoking read recently on contextual leadership. Digested, the idea is that leaders have a certain skill set and experience that lend themselves to a phase in an organisational life cycle. I think we all know this intuitively. A leader who might be spectacular in a start-up would not necessarily do so well in a mature, large organisation. One whose skills work exceedingly well in build-and-grow mode might be at sea in a cost-out contraction phase.
The key insight is that this doesn’t necessarily represent inadequacy in the leader; It simply means that we are not all made to do all things. The author (who I don’t have permission to quote so I’m just going to continue paraphrasing but please note… I’m plagiarizing the ideas) focuses on the senior leader. But I think it’s worth extrapolating to many roles within an organisation. I certainly see it’s applicability in my area of Change. I have long felt that in the business of Change, we have a shelf-life. For both ourselves and the organisations we work for and with, it’s important to be the adult in the relationship and know when to move on.
Now look. I’m not ready to leave. I’m not even close to ready so nobody get any ideas. But this is such an interesting and valuable idea, I want to let it sit in my knoggin’ and percolate for a while. It requires a degree of self-awareness well beyond that of the average bear. There is a lot to unpack at three levels: the phase, culture and need of the organisation; the skills and experience of the individual; and the lego block game of matching the two in the most optimal way. When as a leader or change influencer do you know you’ve served your purpose, and it’s time to be awesome someplace else. What are the signs in yourself and the people around you? When as a parent do you know, “Let go. They’re brilliant… you can’t polish them anymore. It’s not your job.”
“The hardest part is what to leave behind,… it’s time to let go!” ~ Pooh Bear (A.A. Milne)