Everyone goes through the same stages of human development on the road to adulthood and maturity. Unfortunately, some of us get stuck in one stage or another, stunting our growth and rendering us dysfunctional.
We look just like ordinary adults, but we actually behave a lot more like children, acting out, throwing tantrums, and generally making life miserable for everyone around us.
It's pretty much the same thing with executives and business leaders. The only difference is that, instead of just messing up their own lives like ordinary people, dysfunctional leaders influence the lives, livelihoods, and investment portfolios of hordes of employees, customers, and investors.
If I took a virtual snapshot of all the boardrooms I've been in over the years, I'd estimate that maybe a quarter of the executives and directors I've worked with have gotten themselves prematurely stuck in one of the following stages of leadership development:
Stage 1: Sponge. You listen and learn from everyone and every situation as you try to figure out how things work in the real business world. Just like a baby learning to walk, you look really cute stumbling around like the clueless neophyte you are. The good news is you have no real responsibility, so you're not in a position to cause any real damage. You just fall, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and try again until you get it right.
Stage 2: Proof-of-concept. Believing you're actually capable of accomplishing something besides making a complete fool of yourself by promising the world and delivering next to nothing, you set out to prove yourself worthy of the management title that, in all likelihood, you've already been granted.
Stage 3: Delivery. Congratulations, you've somehow managed to deliver the goods and succeed in doing something that can credibly be viewed as a business success. In other words, you made money for somebody and got rewarded with a nice fat bonus. You think you've finally arrived. Won't your spouse be thrilled?
Stage 4: Reset. A little full of yourself, you try a repeat performance using the same tricks that worked the first time and realize--too late--that you're going to need a bigger playbook to consistently make it in the big leagues. Failure doesn't sit well with you. In fact, it's downright depressing. So you set out to make sure that never happens again.
Stage 5: Maturity. After a few iterations of the third and fourth stages, you finally begin to get how the real world works. You realize you're just like everybody else, meaning you succeed at some things, fail at others, and learn from everything. It slowly dawns on you that being a mature leader isn't that much different from the first stage, except experience has given you confidence and, with any luck, a sense of humor and humility. Win or lose, you look good doing it -- and deserve that bonus, right?
So, think it over. Are you stuck in one of the stages or know somebody who is? Fill us in.