Don’t look back from where you’ve come
You can’t erase the things you’ve done
Yesterday’s gone – time to move on
If you live life in reverse, it will get worse.
– John Martin, songwriter
If you are the kind of leader who is looking for absolute truths in the words of a rock and roll song, I am sorry to tell you this, but you are going to have bigger career problems than the impact of the Affordable Care Act and deficit reduction.
While there is certainly something to be said about the negative influence of dwelling on yesterday’s mistakes, I believe there is a way to use those events to grow as a leader. Looking back is not bad. It is how you look back that makes all the difference.
Living in reverse, focusing on all the things that went wrong and then chastising one’s self for errors in judgment, misunderstandings or poor execution, will not lead to better days; if you live your professional life in reverse, it will only get worse. The only thing worse for an executive is to not think about those events at all.
The better way to look back is to treat the process as a leadership exercise, a practice session to improve skills and performance.
At every football stadium there is a perch on top of the press box where camera operators videotape each play of the game. That video is used to evaluate the performance of the players. That platform, sometimes several hundred feet above the playing field, affords the coaches a different perspective from the one they have on the sidelines during a game. Reviewing the video allows the coaches to have “instructional moments” in the player meetings following the game. The players can see how and when they succeeded or how they made mistakes.
Since there is no known physical exercise to improve leadership performance, I am a big believer in using a process called regulated thinking – playing back a mental game film of meetings and events – to examine critically how your decisions, communications and implementation could have been done better. This is hard work because our mind is not always willing to allow us to come to grips with those mistakes since we knew what we wanted to happen.
To overcome that mental roadblock, I recommend leaders use a journal to maintain a record of important meetings and decisions to facilitate the process. You have to be brutally honest but this approach will benefit your game filming exercise. Dallas-based consultant Rand Stagen turned me on to this concept and when I use it, I sense that important lessons emerge with great insight and clarity.
I encourage you to give it a try.
© 2021 John Gregory Self