The Leadership Life Cycle

Everything has a life cycle. Plants, animals, humans, businesses, products - all have a time of birth, growth, maturity, and death. It's the whole "circle of life" thing.

Leadership has a life cycle. There is a time when a leader is "born," a time when he or she grows, matures, and finally reaches legacy. A leader can also die. Leadership death is not necessarily physical death. It can come in the form of broken trust, unethical behavior, apathy, incompetency, or abuse of authority. A leader may be in the prime of their leadership life cycle, and come quickly to death through a series of unwise decisions. If I had you list out the leaders that come to mind whom you would say are "dead," the list would not be short.

Each phase of the cycle requires a new set of skills, knowledge, and implementation. What worked for you as a leader when you were just starting, doesn't necessarily work the same way when you are a mature leader. Let's look at the leadership life cycle:

This usually happens when a leader is young in age, but can happen at any point. A mature leader recognizes leadership abilities and talent in the emerging leader and begins to call it out. He encourages them to explore this gift and develop it. Since leadership is part of who they are, they naturally gravitate toward this role and are excited to take on new challenges.

A young leader begins down the path of growth with the aid of a mature leader, mentor, or coach. Some of the growth comes from observing and learning from other leaders successes and mistakes. Some of the growth comes from being in the trenches and experiencing success and failure first hand. This is a very productive time for the leader and the focus is on achievement.

A leader at this stage in the cycle begins to think less about achievement and more about legacy. She might seek out new leaders to pour into and mentor. She might look toward making a bigger impact that her position and role affords her. There is a focus here on continued growth as a leader but also passing on what is learned.

What marks the legacy stage of the leadership life cycle is when the vision outlives the leader. When a leader retires, or passes, when the vision carries on in the life blood of younger leaders, legacy is born. All the high ideals, vision, and values of the leader continue past their physical presence among younger leaders. It is a true, lasting achievement that is a worthy pursuit of any leader.

The non-physical death of a leader is evident by their actions and behaviors. Some typical indicators are:

  • Lack of accountability
  • Incompetency / lack of desire or effort to grow and learn
  • Apathy
  • Not developing a new generation of leaders
  • Unethical behavior
  • Dishonesty
  • Duplicity
  • Interested in only promoting themselves, often at the expense of others
  • Lack of respect by their team or staff for the leader's authority

These are only some indicators. I'm sure you have had experience with other indicators of a dying or dead leader. Have you worked under a leader who was "dead" but didn't recognize it?

Death in the leadership life cycle ends all hope of legacy (at least on a positive level). A leader finds themselves at this stage by continually making unwise choices - a small indiscretion here, a bit of dishonesty there, and so on. Slowly, the lack of teachability and accountability prevent the leader from seeing their demise.


What stage of the leadership life cycle are you in? What is your plan to go to the next level? Are there indicators from the "death" category that you recognize in your own leadership? What are you going to do to change this situation and get your leadership back on track?

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