Seasons in Leadership – The Military Leader

Seasons. Change. Transition. Growth.

The notion of seasons has come to me from multiple sources recently. One obvious change has been my professional transition…closing the season of battalion command and embarking on a new duty with a new scope of responsibilities. (This season even ended with a ceremony…most don’t!) The people, the conversations, battle rhythms, challenges, opportunities, office spaces, run routes…it’s all different now. It’s entirely new terrain and it demands adaptation.

The other experience that inspired reflection on change was at Yosemite National Park last week, immersed in an ecosystem that is in a perpetual state of natural change. Seasons incrementally and seamlessly slip into one another, presenting subtly-forming but radical new landscapes of sun and ice, rock and water, cloud, air, plant, animal, and fire.

Half Dome, Glacier Point, and Yosemite Valley, as seen from the Upper Yosemite Falls Trail in Yosemite National Park, CA.

Several informative visitor centers highlighted 4-photo collages of Yosemite through the yearly seasons, which are clearly distinguishable from one another. Greens and pastels blaze forth from the trees and wildflowers in Spring. Waterfalls cascade with powerful imminence in Summer. Fall blankets the valley, creating a 3,000 foot U-shaped bed of warm reds and oranges. Then in Winter, snow smothers all, dampening life and movement and sound.

In those snapshots, the stark transition from season to season is unavoidable. One can see and feel the change.

Leading Through Seasons

In leadership, seeing change is a valuable skill. Even if you’re already in the season, recognizing what’s happening around you and your team is crucial. (Of course, seeing it beforehand is preferred.) Leaders who see changing seasons can sense shifting conditions and behaviors in people, systems, and environment in which they operate.

They listen, they empathize, they are open. They welcome other perspectives, valuing them as indicators, data points of a malleable landscape. And these leaders realize that the current season is only desirable because it is comfortable, and that little growth is borne out of comfort. They can see the change because they are looking for it…they welcome it.

Leaders who can sense a season of…

personal struggle in others look for disruption in attitude and behavior, and ask “How are you doing?”…then “How are you really doing?”

overcommitment and limited personal bandwidth are realistic about what the duty will demand and stringent about how many opportunities they say Yes to.

operational friction have specific questions and data points they seek to indicate progress (i.e. the proper positioning of leaders and assets, the reserve amount of X on hand, the time allotted to subordinate units for planning, and the communications status of command nodes, among others).

limited time/space for their own priorities understand that they must first fulfill their boss’s priorities, then anticipate and plan around them.

risk in the organization do so by assessing how many organizational factors will change and by how much, as well as how many aspects of the operation, even minor ones, are compromised or failing (start counting up three or four strained operational variables and you might be in trouble). Here’s another post about that…

organizational growth notice when high-performing talent arrives to the team, providing opportunity to insert new energy and fresh perspective for growth; or perhaps when a significant event is on the horizon that requires the team to elevate its level of play.

recovery can make an unbiased assessment of the strain on the team, then adjust expectations to maintain a high-performing state; this leader is able to tell his hardest-working, exhausted subordinate to go home early and get some rest.

Leaders Develop Vision for Change

Regardless of the situation, the best leaders know that by their role and responsibility, they are specifically-positioned to intuit transition and see growth opportunity. These leaders intentionally develop vision to sense impending seasons. Then they fulfill their responsibility to define reality for the team and empathetically guide their followers through the change. In doing so, they model how to lead through change with foresight and intention.

Questions for Leaders

  • How would you describe the season are you in? How did you arrive at this place and what are you doing about it?
  • What indicators do you look for to sense change? How do you know it’s coming?
  • Who helps you identify an impending season? Who helps you get through it? Have you told them how valuable they are?

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