Winter and “seasonally affected leadership”


So, it has been a bit snowy in London this week.

I believe that empathy is a super-power for leadership. Whilst it is not essential to have shared the same or a similar experience in order to empathise with others, what is critical is, as put in a NY Times article, “being able to imagine what it would be like to have it. ”

To be funny about it, recently I took my 14 year old to visit family in teh Scottish countryside. He was so excited to throw snowballs and make snow angels. The thing was, he hadn’t been cold since he was a tiny child, it doesn’t snow in the Cayman Islands ! At one point he said: “Dad, I had no idea snow was so COLD ! When I saw videos of snow angels, they looked so happy, but it is SO COLD !”

Ah well, now he understands !

Now, this is my first winter in a very, very long time. The last time I was very early in my career, so I have no experience or way of understanding the impact of winter on leadership in business.

As to winter, Britain occasionally gets a little cold, say around freezing, a bit of snow. For real winter, try Canada. Toronto gets -20c for weeks on end, every winter.

I could have used any one of a number of joke images, but I’ve spent enough time in Canada that I laughed out loud at the bottom one !

canadian winter

So, to “seasonally affected leadership”.

For years, living in Cayman and working often in warmer parts of the Americas, I’d work with clients (often with leadership team retreats etc) early in the New Year on vision, big picture strategy etc. Seems the perfect time, lots of fresh energy to start the year, great for expansive thinking.

However with Canadian clients I never could understand why, despite lots of urging from me, they’d always wait “until Spring” for such work. For those in lower latitudes, “spring” in summer is about the middle of May !

I was recently discussing this with a Canadian friend and hugely experienced global leader who now finds themself living and working back in Canada.

They noted about this time of year :

“people want to be in a comfortable space”

I suddenly got it. Not only do they want to be warm and safe, not out in the frozen tundra (ie downtown Halifax / Ottawa / Montreal / Toronto / Calgary / Edmonton etc in Winter!), they want to be comfortable at work too.

When people are in the throes of winter, they will face “seasonally affected leadership”. They will want to stay comfortable, doing what they know, focussed on the day to day, the operational, the “get stuff done” mode.

The thing is, to be an effective leader one must, as the US Navy Seals call it “get comfortable being uncomfortable”, or as Seth Godin would put it visually :


So, as a leader, if you are currently in the Northern Hemisphere in a less than tropical location this winter, check in with yourself.. are you in your comfort zone ?

As a leader, are you waiting for spring to look to stretch yourself and your business to create magic ? To look beyond the norms, look to truly add value ?

As for me, hurry up, Spring, this Caymanian is done with winter !






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