February 9, 2024
There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them. – Bruce Lee
The great leadership expert Bruce Lee was absolutely right – you must not stay in the plateau places. The greatest danger of the plateau is that it simply feels so comfortable. In fact, it feels so comfortable you may not even realize you have plateaued. Leadership plateaus let us move into autopilot and relax into familiar patterns. Moving from one situation to another, one decision to another, one person to another without the need to think about the next step. Comfort isn’t wrong, and every leader needs a chance to rest into their leadership on occasion. But remaining on a leadership plateau will never move you forward in leadership; nor does it provide the engaged leadership needed by those being led.
There are four things leaders must do when facing a leadership plateau:
EXAMINE yourself and your leadership – Recent research revealed that 86% of senior leaders found making time and space for reflection critical to their leadership success. Intentionally setting aside time to reflect on leadership decisions creates better decision makers. Examining important interactions and critical conversations changes the way we lead people. Considering future leadership roles provides direction to leadership growth and development. Personal examination increases understanding of one’s leadership strengths and characteristics, allowing leaders to lean into those strengths while working on areas needing growth.
EXPAND your network of professional relationships – Successful leaders maintain a broad network of professional relationships to enhance their leadership skills. By intentionally building relationships with a variety of people, leaders gather experience and learning that is strategically designed to benefit their leadership growth. By sharing information and experiences, individuals learn from each other and develop personally and professionally. If you find yourself regularly seeking leadership advice and coaching from the same person or group, you may want to expand your professional network. Developing strategic relationships is important to continued leadership growth and prevents stagnation.
EXPLORE new opportunities to stretch your leadership – Complacency is the enemy of growth. When we settle for what we know, we fail to grow. Seeking stretch opportunities requires leaders to leave their comfort zone and risk failure. This is scary as hell. However, accepting these stretch opportunities develops new skills and insights that often cannot be learned in any other context. An added benefit is that stretch assignments spark new excitement and interest in our leadership roles and create leaders who are more engaged.
We cannot change what we are not aware of, and once we are aware, we cannot help but change.
EXIT a bad situation – In some instances, the only way to move off the plateau is to actually move. This may appear drastic, but sometimes removing oneself may be the only way to escape a bad situation, a bad leader, or a bad work culture. Remaining with an organization that does not value you or your leadership will drag both down. It’s not always possible to simply walk away from a position. However, when the leadership plateau is the result of a toxic environment, every additional moment should be spent seeking the means to leave that environment.
Leadership should never be boring. Leadership should be moveable, changing, and exciting. Leaders must take responsibility for their own leadership growth by intentionally engaging in the leadership development process. Jumping off the plateau and heading out on the path of leadership makes you a better leader, and your leadership growth impacts everyone around you.
 Karavedas, J. (2019). Becoming leaders: A phenomenological study of how mid-level leaders in Christian universities develop leadership skills
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