On a business call this morning an announcement was made that one of the leaders of my company was retiring and by coincidence the new leader and heir apparent was celebrating her birthday. Now I am not the smartest tack in the drawer, but one thing that I have learned through the years being raised by strong women, is to never ask them how old they are! So I refrained from that question, good career move, I think.
However, this juxtaposed set of announcements got me to thinking about natural cycles in life. Inanimate objects tend to decay over time, a process of destructive dissolution. Any object, organization, or anything in the universe that is acted upon by the forces of nature will go through this process. Life, however, is different. The organic process starts through a birthing process as life explodes into this world. A child is born into this world in a bit of a mess, crying, screaming, messy and completely at the whim of the elements. However soon after birth, the rapid growth process accelerates. Growth flourishes if the right ingredients are met, life thrives. Then after a period of time, and when certain conditions are met, life begins to fade. Growth slows, replenishment starts to wane and death occurs. This however is not the end, the cycle of life continues and rebirth occurs. The spring of life.
We humans build families, organizations and companies. We create tools, processes, and erect buildings out of concrete and steel. No organization we build will survive the test of time, no structure erected by the hands of human kind will survive the process of natural decay. However, there is one thing that is constant. As long as there is life, human consciousness in particular, as long as there are people that take a breath in and out there will be the ebb and flow of death and rebirth. This creates a cycle that is almost as predictable as the tide, as consistent as the sunrise.
When I was younger, a great man taught me a few important life lessons. One of the most important ones is the concept that any human built organization will take on the characteristics of its leader. Just as anything living will eventually die, so will people and the things they build. Additionally, any organization will eventually require the refreshing and renewing process of bringing in new leadership. We should not look at leadership change as bad thing, but rather a necessary thing. No human built organization can survive without the life bringing movement brought in by new people. Even the best organizations, led by the best people, will begin to struggle and the need to move on to new leaders will come. Just as a new tide brings life bringing nutrients from the ocean to a coastal habitation, the new leader brings the same to their new organization.
One of the most bitter pills that I had to swallow in life, was the recognition that the company that I owned was starting to fail because of me. When it was smaller and really just in place to support my consulting efforts, the business thrived. However, as time went on, the client base increased, the number of employees grew, the company started to struggle. What was going on was the company was taking on my characteristics. Whether you like it or not, every decision you make, every person you hire, every leader you promote is an extension of who you are. You impact the organization that you lead by the decisions you make and slowly and over time it effectively takes on your characteristics, good and bad. In my case, I had to learn to focus. My natural curiosity and creativity was a great attribute, but the organization could not be my personal sand box. I learned that I had to focus, choose a path and be content. It was only after that I started to see improvements. If a leader has been in place for a long time, take a good look at the culture, the behaviors, the greatness and the weakness of it all. You are effectively looking into the soul of its leader. This is why leadership change is required and why leaders are so important at the same time. This is because life is organic and anything built by humans takes on organic characteristics.
Now no one is dying or being born today in my company, but symbolically there is that season of change. Spring is here. The old are giving way to the new and with that new energy, new ideas, and soon culture of the organization will be teaming with the excitement and wonder that the birth of new life brings. We celebrate birthdays, to measure our time here on earth and to pay tribute to that person but the day of someone’s birth was not a perfect affair, just ask the mother! The birth of all three of my children were all unique experiences, but they were anything less than perfect. Of course now that years of past we only remember the perfect moments. Same with the death of many of my loved ones. Always chaotic, always frustrating, always sad. Yet we remember that one moment that will stick with us forever. Interesting life comes into this world kicking and screaming and usually leaves the same way. So it is with leadership change, it is never pretty, never easy, but absolutely required and necessary part of any successful journey.
So as in life, so it is in the places we work and the organizations we create. An organic ebb and flow of new people, new ideas improving upon, interlacing with, and expanding upon the ideas of the ones that came before. New people come in, and the people that are done serving leave but one thing is constant. It is not the beginning, or the destination that really matters – it is the journey. Life before death. Journey before destination.