The sagacious writer of Ecclesiastes observed: To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven (Ecc. 3:1). Leaders would do well to carefully consider this profound insight.
Too often we lead as if our current role is a perpetual one. We behave as if the dynamics of our current leadership position will always remain static. But the truth is that any assignment you undertake will flow through seasons.
Those of us living in North America are generally familiar with four primary seasons: spring, summer, fall, and winter. Each is unique and critical to the overall health of nature. Just ask a farmer if he could do without any of them! Of course, farmers would love to be in a continual harvest season, but that is impossible. Spring is for planting seeds that will bring a future harvest. It is an exciting time of new beginnings. Summer is a period of growth and maturation. It gets hot and sweaty! Autumn is for harvesting what you planted in spring and nurtured in summer. Winter is for closure, as growth comes to an end. It is a period of rest and reflection before the next spring arrives. Farmers know that to be successful, they must utilize all four seasons.
We know instinctively what to expect from each season and we prepare accordingly. We are also generally in tune with the changing seasons. When the sun begins shining a little more warmly and we hear the sound of geese honking above, we know Spring is coming. When the leaves begin turning color, the temperature dips, and we hear those geese once more, we know autumn is upon us. Growing up in Canada, I could sense when snow was in the air and it was time to pull out the winter clothing. Having witnessed changing seasons all of our lives; we generally know what to expect.
Leaders need to understand that their roles also flow through seasons. Let me give you a personal example. One day as I was in my church office, I received a strange phone call. It was from the chairman of our denomination’s seminary trustees, who informed me that he had been in a conversation about who might be the next president of the school. My name had come up. I should have sensed then that a season in my life was about to change. But the church where I was pastor was functioning at its peak. We were growing and adding staff. The future looked bright. That evening when I returned home, my wife Lisa was crying. “Who died?” I asked, rather callously. “We’re moving!” she exclaimed. She could already read the writing on the wall. We moved.
Winter had set in on my role as a pastor. I had thought I’d retire in that job. I was experiencing success and satisfaction. But at the same time I was restless in my spirit and eager to undertake new challenges. I was only 31 and ready to learn and experience much more. The seminary gave me that opportunity. Upon my arrival, it was suffering serious cash and student shortfalls! The faculty was understaffed and there were some serious personnel issues that needed immediate attention. I had no previous experience with issues like accreditation or governance. I had a lot to learn, and fast! It was a brand new springtime in my career and it was profoundly invigorating. I eventually moved into summer. I taught classes, ran meetings, enlisted new students, built the endowment fund, and travelled extensively. I began to feel like I had a firmer grasp on what seminary presidents were supposed to do with their time. As a result, the school grew and prospered.
Eventually I entered autumn. No longer did my board of trustees worry about having a “green” president any more! After a decade of leading successfully, they trusted me. I was asked to write books and to speak internationally. I had students traveling across the continent to study in the school that I led. I was at the top of my game. Again, I assumed it would be the job from which I would eventually retire.
But then winter set in. I should have noticed the signs. Enrollment had slowed down somewhat. The school was still healthy, but my enthusiasm for the job was waning. It wasn’t that I did not enjoy the people I worked with or believe in the mission of the school, but I was no longer growing in the job. And, when you stop growing, you start dying. One day a student paid me a visit in my office and informed me that, as he had been praying for me, he had sensed it was time for me to leave the school and to work full time with my father at Blackaby Ministries International. His words struck me like a thunderbolt. I had written and spoken often with my father, but it had never crossed my mind to work with him full time (After all, he had been officially retired for five years!). I came to realize that winter had set in to my role once more. I left that great school and began a new, exciting role as president of BMI. I travelled internationally. In my first year in that position, I submitted six book manuscripts! I began working closely with Christian CEOs of large companies. I was being stretched once again! And so the seasons continue to flow through my life . . .
The problem for some leaders is that they fail to recognize that the seasons have changed. They used to be the wunderkind of their organization, but now they have grown stale and passionless. It has been a long time since their last spectacular success. Their peers recognize the change, but the leader does not. He is still living off the fading glory of previous victories. They assume because they were once irreplaceable that they still are. But now, instead of people greatly appreciating them, there is a growing sense of resentment. Because such leaders fail to recognize the changing seasons, they stay past their expiration date and tarnish what would have been a glorious career.
Now this does not mean that people cannot remain in the same position for a long time. It does mean they cannot retain the same skills and activities and knowledge year after year, and be successful in the same job. Things must change. That is how God designed life.
How far back do you have to search before you can recall your last great success? When was the last time you grew personally in your role? What is the last exciting thing you learned so you could be increasingly effective in your job? Are people still genuinely pleased to work with you? Have you been reading the signs correctly? Could the seasons have changed in your leadership career without you noticing?
Learn to recognize the seasons of your life and leadership. If you fervently embrace each one as it comes, you’ll thrive in every role you undertake.
For more information on seasons, see The Seasons of God: How the Shifting Patterns of Your Life Reveal His Purposes for You. Colorado Springs: Multnomah, 2012.