I wrote Part 2 of “These aren’t the leaders you’re looking for,” a follow up to Part 1. I saved it, then set it aside for a night so I could proofread and publish the next day. But something went wrong. I was surprised by a technical problem that was beyond my control. The final draft vanished.
Immediately, I resolved to re-write the piece, confident that my words would come back with ease. In my mind, they had been really good. My ego was anticipating lots of likes and shares... But no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't get it quite right. Finally, after several days of operating somewhere between determination and desperation, I accepted that the words weren't coming back. They were in the past - gone forever.
It made me think about the wider context in which we find ourselves... Despite my consistent rhetoric about being present, remaining optimistic about the future, and not wasting energy on the past, there is a part of me that just wants to get back to Normal. It is a dangerous thought.
If we try to recapture whatever we defined as Normal before mid-February, we will fail. The conditions have changed and they cannot be recreated. They are in the past - gone forever.
If Normal exists, it is in front of us. It will be different from whatever Normal was before. The more we resist that truth, the longer it will take to get where we need to be. Solutions are always about where we are and where we are going. They are never behind us.
I admit that I don't always own that concept as thoroughly as I should. Intellectually, I accept it. But emotionally, I want the illusion of comfort that comes from trying to manage narratives. The hard work of constantly adjusting in the present in order to prepare for the unknown is more daunting.
Based on my experience, I think many leaders struggle with similar dilemmas. As an investor, I constantly have to repeat the mantra "Past performance is not an indicator of future results" in order to maintain discipline. As a consultant, I see the stress placed on organizations when well-meaning senior leaders turn business unit reviews into forensic investigations, and make field leaders feel like they are suspects under interrogation. When I was leading a division of a large corporation, I had to remind myself that the rear view mirror is a tool for checking in, not for navigating, and that the way to achieve our goals was to make sure that my team was looking out the windshield.
The past is gone forever. The future is unknown. So what are we to do? I have found that I am most effective at shaping little bits of the future when I focus my energy on the few things in the present on which I can exert a positive influence. Usually that dumbs down to keeping my own side of the street clean and following the Golden Rule - so I am not a burden to others - and so I can be of service to others when they need help. It isn't the sexiest strategy, but it is realistic and sustainable. And when it is implemented as a foundational piece of an organization's culture, it is empowering and transformative.