In our Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders Workshops, we talk about this concept all the time: how do I transform myself from technical expert to strategic adviser? The underlying questions participants are trying to answer are: “How do I grow into my next self? How do I transform myself to the person I want to be?”

Today, let’s look at nature for the answer: the butterfly. That’s the goal. The majestic creature that inspires children and grown-ups alike, attracts all kinds of attention. She shows the way with panache, elegance and sometimes even a bit of whimsy. 

Yet, our imagination rarely focuses on what it takes to make a butterfly: the three stages before.

First, the egg. We are all this at the start of our careers: full of potential and often indistinguishable from our peers in terms of know-how and experience. The employee.

Next ….

Second, the caterpillar. She’s starting to develop a personality, so let’s call her June. She knows her task, she follows her plan, she executes. Think of her as the manager. The one that has spent time in perfecting his or her craft and is a true expert. She is hungry, ambitious and on a growth journey.

And then….

Third, the chrysalis. She stops. She reflects. She transforms herself. When ready to be a butterfly, she takes a step back and looks inward to build a new self. She forms herself into a pupa and, while it looks like nothing is happening internally, she is transforming. She is changing her motivations, her style and her approach to life.

Finally, she becomes…

Fourth, the butterfly. The leader. She’s made it and is the queen of all she surveys.

In this story, nature provides the chrysalis stage, the chance for metamorphosis. But in the real world, too often we see June the caterpillar-manager, jump straight into the butterfly-leader world and are disappointed to see that she hasn’t flourished. June goes about her business in the same way, with no pause and no transformation. And then, inevitably, the caterpillar who didn’t invest in becoming a butterfly fails at flying. Caterpillar behaviour is inappropriate in the butterfly world.

In nature this would make no sense, it does not exist. Transformation is required not only for success, but for survival. In business, we often forget the pause, the chrysalis stage, and then are surprised when the transformation does not occur.

In the UK today, we have watched another political leader fail because — although widely recognised as a pretty successful caterpillar — there was no transformational stage before she got picked to be a butterfly almost three years ago. Being a very hungry caterpillar brought her success. She built her craft, did the hard work. Succeeded where others had failed. But caterpillar behaviour doesn’t work in the butterfly world.

If you are ready to transform into a leader, recognise that a radical transformation is needed and that the unsung hero is the chrysalis stage. When the time comes, leave your craft, your hunger, your systems and approaches behind and embrace the journey of becoming a butterfly. 

This is how leaders flourish, and successful careers are built. One natural state at a time. If you try and ‘hack’ the chrysalis stage, others might not think you can hack leadership. Your colleagues will gang up on you and force you out of the corner office. 

With Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders, we provide a fun, meaningful space for you to pause, learn and get the tools you need to transform yourself into the next version of you. If you want to find out more, drop us a line.