What You Should Know About The Lifecycle Of A Leader

Last week I spent 2.5 days at a leadership summit, and learned some amazing things, most of which I’ll be blogging about over the course of this week. I’ll give you the main thrust of the talks, with some of my own thoughts. Remember: these words are not mine, and are from people much smarter than me. I’m just parroting their insights. Hopefully, you’ll get as much out of the conference as I did, and save a little time.

Ok, so first up is a talk by a very influential leader in the religious sphere, Bill Hybels. Bill is one of the most influential Christian leaders of the day, and has done some huge interviews with people like Bill Clinton, George W. Bush’s advisor Karen Hughes, and Bono of U2. At the conference, Bill talked about a subject that all leaders everywhere should be aware of: the lifecycle of a leader.

Product Lifecycle

Bill first brought up some examples of the lifecycles of various products. When the 8-track came out, everyone thought that this was going to be around forever, and the lifecycle would be infinite. We all know what happened with that theory. Same thing happened with the cassette tape and the CD. Now, there’s the mp3 and iPod. It doesn’t seem like there could be anything better than that combination, but we know that there will probably be better audio technology in a few years. If not, it would be the first time in history.

Basically the lifecycle of a product on the market is this: it starts out low, and then starts climbing in sales, it reaches a peak, and then decreases in sales over time. The main thing to remember about a product is this: at some point it eventually stops selling. Does this hold true to leaders?

Next Bill took some lifecycles of leaders as examples.

Bill Gates

Bill built an amazing organization and it is doing great to this day. Microsoft is huge, with a great future ahead. However, Bill announced he would step down as chief executive of the company in a few years. There were many reasons given for the company, but maybe another one overlooked could be the fact that Bill might be more successful as a different leader.

A few years ago Bill and his wife Melinda decided to start an organization to help bring innovations in health and learning to the gloabal community. It is a huge organization, with a big chunk of the funding coming from the Gates as well. But here’s something else to chew on: Warren Buffet donated 37 billion dollars to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Warren Buffet doesn’t invest in losers. His huge donation means one thing: he trusts Bill Gates and belives in him.
So, could Bill be more successful at his organization than he could be at Microsoft down the road? It’s almost impossible to think of, but it may happen. He is certainly in a position to do it, just in a different venue.
Jimmy Carter

Jimmy Carter started by building a business, then becoming governor, and finally president. Not to get too politically involved here, but Jimmy Carter’s effectiveness as a leader may have waned during his presidency in the eyes of the public. But after his presidency, his effectiveness went up again. He started involving himself in many charitable causes, and now might be even more effective than he was as President.

So as leaders, can we avoid this seemingly inevitable fall of effectiveness? Is there a way to ensure that our effectiveness can continually climb as we grow older, until we stop leading? The answer is YES, if we know how to change over time as a leader.

4 Steps To Growing As a Leader

There are 5 steps that make or break leaders as they develop and age. It’s important that you follow the steps, in their order. If you don’t, your success and influence as a leader will wane over time.

1. Start Leading Early On

The sooner you start leading, the better you’ll become at it over time. Really, most leadership skills are learned only by leading. You can read about them all you want, but it’s not until you put them into practice that you develop your own leadership qualities.

One of great things about leading in your youth is the fact that you run solely on heart and passion. Sometimes the best leaders are the ones that are bold and untamed. Most of the really successful people started early on, running on only guts and passion. Passion is essential to leadership, and if you ever lose passion as a leader, you’ll lose effectiveness.

2. Add Skills

The flip side to leading solely on passion and heart in your youth is the fact that your followers can only follow the passion for so long, without getting burned out. They’ll need things like community and family, to know you really care about them as followers. You have to add leadership skills to keep them around.
In order to add skills, you have to be intentional and disciplined about it. You have to be willing to pay the price for your knowledge. It won’t come easy, but hardly anything good ever does. Here are 4 ways to add leadership skills.

1. Read everything you can on leadership

Each book or article that you read helps you and changes you as a leader. It’s important to read in every venue of life as well. If you’re a business leader, read about leaders in the sports, history, science… don’t limit yourself to only your niche. You’ll learn more if you expand your horizons. (And you’ll get plenty of more leadership quotes ;)

2. Go where leadership is taught

If you can get one good thought or practice from a conference, it will have paid in full for your ticket price. Hearing other leaders teach is invaluable.

3. Hang around better leaders then you

It’s ok to admit it. You know better leaders than yourself. So hang around them, learn from them, and ask them qustions. Treat them to lunch and grill them (no pun intended). This is one of the most valuable things you can do for your leadership skills.

4. Keep leading

90% of what you learn, you learn from leading. Leadership is like any other skill that you lose if you stop using it. If you quit leading, you lose your edge as a leader.

3. Develop Other Leaders

It takes a leader to grow a leader, plain and simple. As a leader, you need to make “investments” into other leaders to help them grow. By growing other leaders, your organization will grow. So what do you look for in a prospective leader? The three C’s: Charachter, Competence, Chemistry.

4. Create a “Constellation of Colleagues”

Most leaders make the mistake of stopping at the previous level because they think it is the most important. No, this step is one of the hardest and most rewarding. A truly great leader is able to reach this step.
A constellation of colleagues is a group of leaders that you’ve raised up to be your equals. Many leaders hate this stage because it means that not only do they have to share power, but they might even find that there’s someone even better suited to lead than them. It takes a lot of maturity to be able to let go of selfishness and pride and let others “take the reigns” (like Bill Gates). This shows that you believe the organization to be bigger than even you.
But you shouldn’t just trust anyone with this high position. Here are 4 things to look for when picking these talented individuals.

1. Intelligence

Smart people matter. You have to have intelligence in order to lead.

2. Energy

Energetic people help energize other people. You need to make sure that they have at least as much energy as you do.

3. Relational IQ

You always want people who care about other people. There will be plenty of people who will get things done, but step over others to do it. Avoid these people! An organization needs community, and this behavior severly hampers it.

4. A win or die spirit

Find people who have the mentality “we’ll see it through if it kills us”. These people don’t give up, no matter what the limitations. They’re huge motivators to the rest of the organization.

This leadership style with the Constellation of Colleagues is completely different. It has a lot more power because by raising a family of leaders, you will exponentially increase power and growth within the organization. Why? Because the power is focused on growth within the organization, and not on an individual.

Here’s the kicker about this style of leadership: If you stay too long within the constellation, you’ll be the limiter in the group. This is a very hard thing for a true leader to swallow. It’s hard not being in control of everything. But trusting and letting go is part of growth. If you don’t step down and let others lead, you’ll either stay to the point of ineffectiveness, or be forced out of leadership. And if a leader is forced out of leadership, he won’t stay within the organization. He’ll pack his bags and completely remove himself from it. What organizations need is a succession plan for senior leaders. By allowing them to stay important and part of the organization until retirement allows them to still provide value to it.

If you follow these steps, you’ll be an effective leader up until the point you leave the organization. After you’re gone, a huge void will be felt within the organization, but it won’t slow it down. By developing your leadership over time, you’ll have ultimately made the organization bigger than you. You may find yourself starting something completely different once you have moved on like Bill Gates or Jimmy Carter. Isn’t that what’s really important?

Leave a Comment

{ 10 comments… add one }
  • Natalia July 31, 2010, 11:50 pm

    Very, very good article!

  • Davy May 30, 2008, 7:18 am

    Don?t look at gift horse’s mouth,

  • robert June 14, 2007, 12:06 pm

    hi all.

  • Ryan May 3, 2007, 11:34 am

    I enjoyed the article. I am also at the beginning of my leadership career. I agree whole heartedly that surrounding yourself with talented people is crucial to developing as a person as well as a leader. I look forward to reading more.

  • alex April 13, 2007, 1:11 pm

    hi nice site.

  • robert March 18, 2007, 11:00 am

    hi all. nice blog. its very ineresting article.

  • Pompini October 31, 2006, 9:26 am

    Buon luogo, congratulazioni, il mio amico!

  • Ahmed Bilal August 14, 2006, 2:36 pm

    Just building on what you said – the key to staying successful as a leader is to continuously reinvent yourself. You gave Bill Gates and Jimmy Carter as examples of people who are successful in reinventing themselves by being leaders in different fields. Another such example could be Bill Clinton (once again, without being too political).