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  • Jane Porter

Leadership for a Reason or for a Season?

July 2020

In times of crisis or extreme challenge leaders are in the spotlight more than ever. We monitor their behaviours and decision making with intense scrutiny, and often accompany this with less than complimentary commentary. We are currently experiencing this directly in our organisations, and also through the lens of the media, the impact being that patterns of leadership are becoming increasingly visible.

Patterns of leadership are interesting to observe as they are not the same as styles. In order to reflect on, and understand my style as a leader I might seek feedback or take a diagnostic approach. To notice my patterns, I need to be able to take a meta view, which means being able to observe myself while I am doing and behaving.

If we explore this idea in our current environment we can notice two prominent leadership patterns, I’m calling them ‘leadership for a season’ and ‘leadership for a reason’.

‘Leadership for a season’

The seasonal leadership pattern shows up when performance objectives are to be achieved within a defined period. There may be an underlying sense that the profile of these achievements is linked to career progression for the leader. Perhaps where they are is a stepping stone to somewhere else. Key drivers are achievement oriented, and measurable. Whilst the stated purpose may be strategic, purposeful horizons in focus are shorter term, and legacy deliverables will be measurable, and sit within a specified timeframe.

The language of seasonal leadership has an economic or commercial edge to it. Phrases such as ‘we need to get through this’ and ‘let’s push to achieve as much as we can’ are present. During COVID-19 a narrative of survival and short term measurable steps has emerged as leaders grapple with this continued unpredictable season. The style is one of telling and directing.

The impact on those around this pattern is one of urgency, need to get it done. A sense of sprinting to an outcome, which may include celebrating an ability to overcome large moving obstacles in the short term. When prolonged it can be exhausting, and contribute to a decline in organisational and individual wellbeing. 

‘Leadership for a reason’

This pattern is purpose driven. Leaders who engage with this pattern have often found their field of purpose and remain within it for many years. They are driven by personal values that connect to the purpose of their chosen organisation or field. Over time they are sought after for their depth of expertise, as well as their leadership ability, when crisis is present they remain steady and anchored by their purpose. Their vision is clear, as is how they mean to have impact or contribute to something greater than themselves.

Listening into the language of leading for a reason, you’ll hear enquiry into the ‘why’ of a decision and how it impacts people and purpose. Dialogue will be about both performance and wellbeing. A coaching approach is noticeable, with listening and asking present in communications.

The impact on those around this pattern is one of connection. Strength and resilience are able to be drawn on when times are tough, teams rise to the challenge yet are firmly anchored in ‘why’ they are going the extra mile.

Why does it matter? 

Most of our patterning happens subconsciously. Unless we find a way to pause and bring a level of consciousness to how we are being experienced, we don’t necessarily become aware of our impact on others, particularly during challenging times.

For those leading in the current COVID-19 environment the tension between leading for a reason and leading for a season is fraught. Leaders are having to navigate the need for commercial and economic survival, at the same time as being required to consider purpose and wellbeing. 

In coaching, I’m noticing that the leader who seems to successfully navigate these tensions, is able to bring a level of consciousness, followed by choice, to their leadership patterns. Those that are struggling are being swept along by the storm, reacting rather than responding. They are largely unaware of the patterns they are exhibiting, and the impact on others. 

If you recognise yourself somewhere in here, try asking yourself a couple of short questions:-

How am I behaving?  (Am I behaving for a ‘reason’ or for a ‘season’?)

What is driving my behaviour? (Listen to what you are saying to yourself as a clue)

How might that be showing up for others? (Listen to the language you are using)

What’s the impact of that on myself? On others?

Part of the craft of a coach is noticing how language and patterns are showing up on the outside, they bring awareness to the meta view. Once you notice, then you can make conscious choices about what is working well, and what you might want to adapt.


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