As this mere player leaves the stage, what to pass on?

After several years as a charity chief executive, Martin Edwards identifies the seven stages of management; from the honeymoon period, through boredom to renewal

Martin Edwards reflects on his time as chief executive of children's hospice Julia's House
Martin Edwards reflects on his time as chief executive of children's hospice Julia's House

Shakespeare's As You Like It features a speech by the melancholy Jaques on the seven ages of mankind. "All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players," he begins, and reflects on the seven-stage journey from infancy to old age. With several years under my belt in my current job, I think there are also seven stages of management. In my final Confessions column, here they are.

First, there is the honeymoon, when you have goodwill, momentum and maximum opportunity for positive change. In this period, the best leaders will listen intently and then act swiftly. Those who are too cautious will forever wish they had done more earlier.

The second stage is resistance. Most people support the changes you bring, but a few resist, sometimes viscerally. Of all the seven stages, this is the most painful. Stress levels can soar and you might begin to doubt yourself. Keep going, keep your allies close and keep releasing your pressure valve outside work.

After resistance comes building, when there is much development in services, culture and quality. But, as with Jaques' third stage of man - the lover - it is a time when appearance can oversell the true extent of achievement. Too many leaders leave after this point, cashing in their apparent progress for a better-paid job elsewhere, leaving behind crestfallen colleagues. They should have stayed for the fourth stage: embedding. This is when achievements are truly fixed in place and, through repetition, start to become part of the organisation's DNA.

Climbing the next mountain

If we're being honest, the fifth stage is boredom. You've brought in the changes, won the battles, built and embedded. It's when you ask "what now?" and don't quite fancy climbing the next mountain. For many people, the answer is to leave: if you do, it's honeymoon time all over again with someone new, and how exciting that sounds. But you'll miss out on the sixth, innovative stage: renewal.

This is ultimately more fulfilling than another honeymoon. It's when you have great experience and power in the role, and you use it to challenge the organisation to reach for new heights. People have climbed the peaks with you before, so although you might have to enthuse them anew, they will go with you again.

Finally, when you have created that new and better world, there is a seventh stage. I'm unsure what it is yet, because after nine years I think I am one stage further back. I hope it's maturity, when we acquire the wisdom of elders and our words alone can move people to action.

But I could be wrong. It might be the seventh age according to Jaques: decrepitude, when the years of toil have taken their toll on the player and it is time to leave the stage and go without fear into the calm pastures beyond.

Martin Edwards is chief executive of the children's hospice Julia's House

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