Can you leverage the past without being trapped in it?

Dan Rockwell (@leadershipfreak) recently posted an article on his blog entitled “The Destruction of Potential and Joy.” I found the article mildly interesting in as much as it discussed the importance of looking forward rather than dwelling on the past. I have blogged several times myself (here, here and here) about the importance of having a vision and striving to attain it so I was reasonably attuned to the message that Dan was delivering. However, Dan finished his post with a challenging question:

How can leaders leverage the past without being trapped in it?

Dan asserts that “Successful leaders always create the future” and I totally agree with him.  I also think, however, that successful leaders are innately able to learn from the past, adapt, adjust and then use that experience to help shape the future.

So, if Dan is challenging aspiring leaders to become successful, how do I answer Dan’s challenge?

In my experience, there are two types of behaviour that impede an aspiring leader from embracing their experience of past events:

  1. They are driven by the thought that “it is important to have a vision and look forward” so have forgotten their past experiences
  2. They are afraid of being perceived as “trapped in the past” so discount their past experiences.

In my Rotary club (@towcesterrotary) I am seen by some as a maverick that often pushes the boundaries just to create discomfort. I have several examples from the trivial (the dress code for our meetings is “Jacket and Tie.” I wear a tie on rare occasion and I don’t see how not wearing a tie to a Rotary meeting makes me somehow inferior, so I don’t wear a tie!) to the more complex (let’s put a strategic plan together to attract new members that will help move the needle on some of our projects.) The cry from some members… “But we’ve always done it that way” when old ways are challenged and new ideas are proposed still haunts me. I am proud, however, that the majority of members see that the strength and enduring nature of the club comes from embracing the past and moving to shape a new future.

When I apply this to my business life, I find that being nimble, lean and agile are key factors in success achieved. I have a breadth and depth of experience that comes from 35 years of working in large firms and small, being an independent consultant, an employee and an entrepreneur and from both successes and failures. I cannot help myself but use this experience to shape my decisions, strategy and vision.

Do I want to go back to the “good ole days?”

Not at all.

Leadership is a journey. When you think you have arrived, it is time to give up! Keep on striving for the future but use your experience of the past to help shape your decisions.

Do you feel trapped in the past? If so, what are you doing to change that?

Is your past experience working for you? If so, what strategies have you used to embrace the past and shape the future?

About Peter Borner

Peter is an entrepreneur and successful business leader. Currently leading a consultancy firm specialising in technical diligence for M&A and advising global firms on IT consolidation and migration to consumption based costing through the use of Cloud Technologies.

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Love your take on this conversation, Peter. Best to you