Leadership Cycle: Is History destined to repeat itself?

World history is usually taught as the history of civilizations. The significant facts are generally the ones that have had a bearing on the development of those civilizations. Human history is an unending series of repeated cycles. The world is round and almost everything goes through cycles. There are life cycles, climate cycles, economic cycles and political cycles to name a few. Just look at the circular dial of a watch: the hand revolves around and around, as time recurs in a cycle. It can be argued that leadership like the rest of our affairs is essentially cyclical in character. Effective leadership is commonly viewed as central to organizational success.

The Leadership cycle includes five stages – Awareness, Development, Maturity, Reinvention and Decline.

Stage 1. Leadership Awareness – A leader is born. A situation arises, a leader steps forward, takes the helm and acts in that capacity. He / she creates the vision and sets goals.

Stage 2. Leadership Development – Based on the organization, type of business, environment and people, the appropriate leadership style is developed. Growth is achieved by observing other leaders as well as from personal experiences.

Stage 3. Leadership Maturity – Leaders at this stage have proven performance. They are confident with their experience and in their abilities and so may become complacent believing what worked in the past will work in the future. They think that past behaviours are indicators of future success. Many managers get stuck in this stage and skip Stage 4 (Reinvention) fast forwarding to the Stage 5 (Decline).

“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” ~Alvin Toffler

Stage 4. Leadership Reinvention –This stage is characterized by adaptability and openness to change. Learning is a lifelong process. Successful leaders are always reinventing themselves. They are constantly surveying the environment thus recognizing the external and internal trends and making the necessary personal changes.

Stage 5. Leadership Decline- Everything comes to an end. A leader must accept when their journey is over and let go. At this stage, once succession planning was embraced the leader’s legacy lives on. The goal of true leaders is not to make more followers but more leaders.

Unethical behavior or poor performance can thrust a leader to the Stage 5 (Decline) thereby skipping the sequential order of stages.

 The Economic Cycle and Leadership Styles

Does the economic cycle correlates with the different leadership styles? Just remember nothing happens in isolation. Everything is interrelated. When the economy is booming do we tend to lean towards more participative leadership styles however when there is a downturn do we embrace bureaucratic styles?

Think back to the days of the Great Depression where command and obey was the accepted nature of leadership at this time. We see today with the global financial crisis and slowing global economy companies are adopting stringent tactics (downsizing, layoffs…etc) and some are even reverting to scientific management and authoritarian leadership styles.

There a few leaders like Richard Branson, CEO Virgin Group, who really embrace the transformational or charismatic leadership style. On the other hand, Yahoo’s CEO Marissa Mayer, represents the face of  autocratic leadership which many leaders are adopting to combat the economic downturn.

If you don’t pay attention to the past, you’ll never understand the future. It’s all linked together.”~ Sarah Dessen

Does history repeats itself? There is a popular saying that history repeats itself every 40 years .

Let’s take a snapshot of the US within three, forty year periods:

1920s -1930s:  The Great Depression – The immediate postwar period was one of labour unrest and racial tensions. The depression originated in the United States, after the fall in stock prices that began around September 4, 1929.Unemployment in the U.S. rose to 25%. Businesses and factories shut down,banks failed. It had devastating effects in countries all over the world.

“Don’t forget what I discovered that over ninety percent of all national deficits from 1921 to 1939 were caused by payments for past, present, and future wars.” ~ Franklin D. Roosevelt

1960s -1970s: The U.S. economy entered into the so-called mini-recession of 1966-67. There was high levels of unemployment. Federal budget deficits grew, foreign competition intensified, and the stock market sagged. Military spending also increased as American’s presence in Vietnam grew. Racial tension heightened. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968 which sparked multiple riots.

2000 – 2010: Military spending increased in the US with its war on Iraq. In 2007 the Global financial crisis hits which resulted in billions in losses. The stock market crashed. Banks failed. Many companies closed their doors.Unemployment hit an all time high. Racial tensions in the US on the rise. The Global financial crisis leads to a slowing global economy and the subsequent European debt crisis.

To a certain degree some of these factors can be attributed as a cumulative effect of poor leadership on multiple levels.

The Future

 The 21st century requires forward thinking ethical leaders who embrace the bigger picture. They are interested in how their decisions will affect the future. They foresee the road ahead and make the necessary strategic plans. They don’t just look ahead but behind as well to determine the best plan for progress. They don’t get complacent with success.

 They are always asking pertinent questions:

  1. What has worked for us in the past?
  2. Where did we go wrong?
  3. How can we improve?
  4. Why haven’t we adopted this strategy?
  5. Will this strategy be relevant tomorrow?

« You can‘t connect the dots looking forward,you can only connect them looking back, soyou have to trust that the dots will somehowconnect in your futureeven when it leads you off the well-worn path. » ~ Steve Jobs

Several trends represent the changing contexts that play a crucial role in leadership development:

1. The Role of technology – Rapid advances in technology are constantly changing the way we lead.

2. Multicultural leadership – There has never been such a mix (melting pot) in the workforce as before. Embracing diversity is a must for every leader.

3. A Greater concern for followers – Millennials are expecting and demanding more: Reward, recognition and training and development is essential for job satisfaction. Another major concern is work life balance. Leaders must understand that a person’s work and personal life have reciprocal effects on each other.

4. Increasing interest in the integrity and character of leaders – The 1990s witnessed ethical lapses among senior executives and pointed to the fact that greater emphasis on leaders character and values ought to be required.

5. Competitive global environment. The global playing field has leveled. Embracing change management (How to Be an Effective Change Leader)and a culture of learning is a crucial for an organization to be able to compete in the global marketplace.

« Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it. » ~ George Santayana

History clearly shows that it repeats itself.

If we would study the past, it has the keys to unlock the mysteries of the future. The beliefs, habits and practices from our past are powerful tools if used as a springboard into the future. Effective leaders selectively hold onto certain elements of the past, whilst they focus on investing in building for the future.

Are we doomed to repeat the same mistakes? Not necessarily, that is why it’s important to understand the lessons from the past, the realities of the present, and the likely consequences of a decision for the future. We don’t just enter the future. We create it.

« The world we have created is a product of our thinking; it cannot be changed without changing our thinking.” ~ Albert Einstein


Brigette Hyacinth

Director & Founder of MBA Caribbean Organisation

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