I live in Canada near Toronto and have a family cottage on a lake in a beautiful area of lakes, rocks and woods called Muskoka. In this part of Canada there are definitely four seasons, each one about three months in length – spring, summer, fall, winter. My parents purchased the cottage in 1958 and I have been going there every summer since I was a little boy. Late spring every year we put our dock out in the lake in front of our cottage and take it in and store it towards the end of the summer – a cycle that been repeated 54 years in a row. I have just returned home from doing that very thing this year. There are a number of cottages adjacent to ours and who also require taking their dock in and out. For the past several years all the men along our shore gather en mass to participate in this annual ritual amidst jokes, barbs, grunts and copious amounts of beer. Of course the elders, like me and others in the motley crew, now witness our respective sons participating lustily knowing we can be confident that this ritual will continue long after we are gone.
Putting the dock in signals the beginning of a glorious cottage summer. Taking the dock out signals the end of summer, and for most involved, the return to a busy fall season of school, business meetings and home projects that had been put on hold all summer. Once the docks are in, and my wife and I, and other family members close up the cottage for another year, I have always found the drive home to be very reflective and melancholy. This dock ritual marks the passage of time in years – 54 and counting. But it isn’t just that. It causes me to step back, take stock of what I have done or didn’t do during the summer and then take charge of my fall priorities. To make a regular process of reflectively and honestly taking stock and then taking charge is to make growth a living continuous process. It seems that milestones or cycles seem to stimulate this occurrence best. Birthdays, weddings, funerals, Thanksgivings and anniversaries on the personal level, and project completions, year ends, new strategies and leadership changes on the business level. Or, it can be putting out and taking in cottage docks. All of these things mark the passage of time, our most valuable resource, and if we miss the reflective moment…well, we miss it and it there’s no going back. They can’t be manufactured to be as substantial as the real moment. Just try celebrating a birthday the month after it really is. I believe leaders know how to leverage such transition opportunities to both reflect on their own effectiveness and also help their organizations do so as well. And if they don’t, they should. I say, why waste a good milestone?