Leadership and Life is About Reinvention

Posted by Edward Robinson in My Vistage

“People who cannot reinvent themselves must be content with borrowed postures, secondhand ideas, fitting in instead of standing out.” – Warren Bennis

I have read and observed that leadership cycles typically run in 5 to 7 year cycles. A standard bell curve accompanies these cycles with effectiveness peaking at about the midpoint then beginning to wane. The typical leader maybe has 2 or 3 cycles in him/her at best. Very few make it beyond this point. There are certainly leaders who opt to stay in their position longer (especially small business owners) but if they are honest with themselves, they will admit that the organization has become a bit stale and is lacking the energy and direction it once had. The numbers may not track exactly against this trajectory but the foundation upon which they are built will definitely start to show cracks and be less stable.

My belief is that everyone’s life follows a similar pattern. You have to be careful about not becoming too comfortable with the status quo and losing your energy and edge. Reinvention isn’t always easy especially if there is no “burning platform” forcing you to change. You have to reach inside yourself and seek out new challenges. You need to engage in necessary and sometimes uncomfortable self-reflection. You need to keep learning and embracing new ideas rather than relying on what you already know and/or understand.

The only constant in the world is change. How much different is your life than it was eleven years ago? Just think about everything that has taken place in our country and the world since 2004 and it becomes clear. Unemployment was almost half of what it is today. Social media wasn’t even a discussion point in most business conversations. A group of Harvard students was just launching Facebook. Hardly anyone you knew owned an iPod. The iPhone was still three years ways from launching. The housing market was booming with home ownership at an all-time high. Barack Obama was just elected to the Senate for the state of Illinois and had limited national exposure. How different do you think the next ten to fifteen years will be?

Leaders don’t just need to adapt to the future they must also create it. They must position themselves and their companies in the most advantageous position possible. Resting on your laurels is never a good strategy. The thinking and tools required to solve yesterday’s problems more than likely will not be sufficient to address the challenges of the future. Many companies that were widely perceived as great businesses with a rich history a decade ago don’t even exist today. Without well-informed, forward thinking, adaptable, and courageous leadership, most organizations are adrift on the sea of mediocrity vulnerable to the waves of chaos and uncertainty.

Leadership and life is about reinvention. Who you are today will not be who you are tomorrow. There are too many variables beyond your realm of control. I sincerely hope that life is kind to you and that you won’t be given more to manage than you can handle. However, life also rewards those who are prepared. The market continues to value and reward those organizations that take calculated risks and proactively strive to create a successful future. People who live the most fulfilling lives are those willing to make changes and challenge conventional wisdom. If you stand still, others will pass you by and life will eventually run you over.