The Three Stages in the Leadership Journey

  • The Three Stages in the Leadership Journey

    The Three Stages in the Leadership Journey

    I run a women’s business book club. This summer, one of our members introduced a fascinating idea: reading and discussing articles. The concept was simple—each person would present a summary of their chosen article and explore how its insights could be applied to both personal and business contexts. The article I’m bringing to the table is “The Leadership Odyssey” from The Harvard Business Review.

    A phrase that has been echoing in my mind ever since I read the article is “what got you here won’t get you there,” and this article truly delves into that concept.

    This piece deeply resonated with me because it aligns with where I currently stand on my journey and how I am viewing it. Gone are the days of the heroic leader charging ahead—the traditional image that often seems gender-biased towards men. In today’s landscape, women are carving out their place as effective leaders by acknowledging the importance of empowering those around us. We are stronger when we all rise together.

    A Three-Stage Journey

    The article outlines a three-stage journey: departure, voyage, and return.


    The first stage, departure, is perhaps the most challenging. It’s that moment when you recognize, often through repeated teaching moments, that change is imperative. This is the stage where the phrase “what got you here won’t get you there” truly comes to life. It’s about realizing that the strategies and habits that brought you success in the past may not be the same ones that will lead you to becoming a great leader or successful business owner. This recognition often comes through feedback from colleagues and employees—a process that takes time and repeated instances to fully comprehend. Sometimes, finding a seasoned mentor with the skills you lack can serve as a model for the change you need.

    However, this transformation usually demands external assistance, as it’s a more substantial effort than one might anticipate. An unbiased source, such as a coach, mentor, or advisor, can be invaluable in this journey. It’s about partnering with someone who guides you through this process of change.


    Once you’ve pinpointed the common thread among your issues and identified the behavior that needs alteration, you move on to the second stage—the Voyage.

    In this phase, successful executives create a fresh learning context. They place themselves in situations where their authority is indirect, and they need to empower others without wielding traditional control. A collaborative style takes precedence over dictating and driving objectives. This new approach involves asking questions that steer conversations towards desired outcomes—an exercise in influencing without the traditional authority.

    Another effective tactic during the Voyage is to transfer knowledge from other domains to your current situation. The article uses parenting as an example, highlighting the collaborative nature of raising a child—a challenge we’re all familiar with!

    Enlisting the support of close colleagues who can point out when you exhibit the behaviors you’re trying to change is another strategy. These small wins, although they may encounter setbacks, are essential in the journey.


    The final stage, Return, is easily recognizable. You find comfort in situations that previously frustrated you. Your journey yields a new professional identity—an identity characterized by the transformation from practiced behavior to inherent traits. While the journey never truly concludes, it becomes self-sustaining.

    Moreover, this newfound expertise fuels a desire to share your learnings, fostering growth in the workplace and beyond.

    Embarking on this journey effectively begins with charting out a learning agenda. This plan illuminates the path towards behavior change and provides insights into the required effort. Ultimately, self-awareness is the cornerstone of successful change. Understanding who you are and acknowledging your insecurities can profoundly aid this transformation.

    The “Leadership Odyssey” sheds light on the evolution of leadership. It speaks to a profound truth: to reach new heights, we must let go of what propelled us in the past. As we embrace this journey, it’s not just our roles that transform, but our identities as leaders and mentors.

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