My biggest mistake in life
A young leader once spoke to me about wisdom that comes with age. He called it the wisdom of the sage and included me in that group. Frankly, I wasn’t excited to be put in the old sage group.
Here’s my response. If I’m a sage it’s because I’ve made so many mistakes that I’ve learned what not to do.
My biggest mistake in life was believing that having life-mission was enough.
Early in life I was given horrible advice. I was told, “Don’t worry about the future rather work at being your best where ever you are.” They explained, “Developing your best will take you where you want to go.” Today, I say that’s absolute bunk!
Mission without vision doesn’t work. Mission is about the present. Vision is about the future. All my life I’ve had a mission to be the best husband, father, teacher, speaker, leader I could be. But I lacked a clear picture of a preferred future.
It’s true, you must work at being your best, however bold success requires vision.
2010 is my year to leverage Internet technology to extend my reach and expand my influence for good. In this case, good means helping leaders reach higher in 300 words or less. It’s more than learning to be the best blogger I can be. It’s intentionally reaching out to new individuals, authors, leaders, managers, organizations, and bloggers, to offer what I have for their benefit. To learn from them and help them reach higher.
Working to be your best is about you. Vision must be about others. If you re-read the previous paragraph I think you’ll see it.
Vision drives life toward bold success.
What’s your biggest mistake in life? What do you think about having vision?
Well said. It reminds me a little bit of the Lion King movie when Simba announces that he’s not going to think about the past anymore because it doesn’t matter. Rafiki whacks him with his stick and when Simba turns around and asks him why he did it, Rafiki says “what do you care? It’s in the past!” We need to devote equal time to learning from the past, living in the moment and preparing for the future. Not an easy thing to do!
Great illustration! Made me laugh and drove home a great point.
Katy just wrote: “Whose afraid of the big bad management team” http://surviveyourpromotion.com/2010/04/02/whos-afraid-of-the-big-bad-management-team/
Best to you
I have always thought the past is critical – its what I use to manage my present and chart my future. Two quotes a really like are:
“History is not dead; it is not even past.” – Faulkner
“History does not repeat itself. History does not repeat itself. History does not repeat itself.” – Weber, a college friend
Ooh, Katy my friend, I’m not sure I completely agree with equal time for the past. I believe we should spend (at least figuratively) no more than 4% of our time with the past, and the rest working towards where we want to go / be / etc. It is the steadfast focus on achieving results, be they helping others (my preferred activity), or attaining some inwardly-directed goal, without being unduly swayed by what just happened.
Dan, I recently had a client talk to me about the difference between “working” and “trying,” and as a result I like your use of “work at being your best.”
What I know Katy to be really good at, and what I’m learning you are too, Dan, is looking ahead, having vision, and developing practical means to help others get where they want to go. In the spirit of company success breeds individual success, both of you offer winning formulas!
Thanks for dropping in…and I thought your point about too much focus on the past was well stated… and once again wisdom emerges in many counselors.
PS. I didn’t think feel any disparagement. 🙂
PS: I have known Katy for years, and consider myself a Raving Fan of hers. Please do not read any tension or intent to disparage in my first paragraph above. I’m just discussing!
I think 4% is too low 🙂
You are spot on! Despite the fact that I work with companies and am constantly reviewing their mission and vision statements, I never really put much thought into the fact that, “Mission is about the present. Vision is about the future.” That alone should drive behaviors.
Thanks for your insight. I always find a fresh perspective here.
Great to have you here. Thanks for the good word. And you are so right. Clearly articulated vision that captures the imagination drives decisions.
For the good of LF readers, Jen and here partner Kelley blog at: http://theexperiencefactor.com/the-x-blog/
Best to you,
Somewhere in the beginning of the nineties I read an article of a canadian colonel that was titled “Vision precedes excellence”. The important lesson I learned (pprobably 10 years later) is that as a leader building a vision of the future and sharing it is more helpfull than concentrating on the day to day tasks at hand.
@ Vicky: analysing where things went wrong in the past is most of the times not very helpfull in solving current problems. Solving the problem is.
Thanks for your comment. I agree 100% I’ve been working on a blog with the idea that focusing on solving problems isn’t the way to solve them. I think vision leads us out of our problems. Vision shows us which solutions are best. Vision shows us if we should simply cut our losses and run.
Best to you,
Root cause analysis is all about the past .. we should concern ourselves with the past to the point that we get answers and can improve the future. The past is full of lessons and stories, its the hidden treasure for improvement and development, and is needed to continuously refine the vision.
I’m loving the tensions between thinking about the past and thinking about the future. One of my early mistakes when I began living a vision driven life was demonizing the past. I did this because I was thinking exclusively of the future.
I read some of the above comments with interest. I somehow agree with you Dan that “Vision drives life toward bold success”. Not only does vision drive life toward bold success but also business success. The problem I have with dwelling too much on the past especially when it comes to business decisions is that the macro-economic environment is constantly changing,hence resulting in decisions being made under different circumstances. Only focusing on now and the past will not somehow improve say business competetive advantage. A great leader needs to have a clear cut vision of say, where the market is heading,how the business game is changing etc. He should be asking questions like where are we now,what products do we need to produce that will satisfy future demand,where do we want to be say in 5 or so years and how we are going to get there. If we are not careful not to think of the future and think more of the past and now, we will end up utilizing all the resources we got NOW and miss great future investment opportunities. I think the 80/20% rule could be applied here where 20% focus is on the past and 80% on the future.
Thank you for leaving your first comment on LF. You really expanded the topic of conversation and added useful ideas. I hadn’t thought of the 80/20 rule but it’s one of those rules that keeps applying!
I look forward to your future participation.
Safety pros are addicted to what I call “Driving into the future looking in the rear-view mirror.” Strange as it may seem there is a widely held belief among safety pros and their leaders that next year’s safety performance will be better than last year’s performance, if the number of people injured has declined year-over-year. In my 35 years in this field of work, I have yet to hear or read a good empirical answer that would validate this belief.
I don’t know that I can articulate my “biggest” mistake, since I have had so many, but one thing I can say and that is I work hard to reflect and learn from the mistakes I make. On the flip side, I put as much effort into learning what went right and try to continue it, as long as possible.
With respect to Mission and Vision statements, I find most corporations spend inordinate amounts of time wordsmithing “mother and fatherhood statements,” tautologies or pious platitudes. These statements contain ideals no one would disagree with.
An organization’s mission statement should 1) contain its reasons for existence and its general aspirations and its ideals, 2) it should contain in very general terms the way(s) by which the organization will pursue its ideals, that is, the business it wants to be in, 3) formulate the ways by which it will attempt to serve each of its stakeholder groups, 4) meet the preceding requirements in a way that is exciting and challenging to all its stakeholders and 5) establish the uniqueness of the organization.
This is the template Russ Ackoff taught me years ago and with the accompanying questions for each attribute, I have found clients create extremely rich mission statements.
Taking license with the standard warning…
Caution: Objects in mirror may appear larger than they really are…check the rear view mirror, side view mirror, but keep most of your attention on the road ahead, where you are going.
Doc, nicely said! Thanks
I would completely agree with this one caveat…rather than reinventing the mistake wheel, there are great lessons to be had from learning from the past – our own and others.
It is always great to see you and you always leave rich comments that add to the LF community.
Sadly, mission statements take loads of time and are word smithed to death but then what companies put on the wall doesn’t happen down the hall. In other words, the newly crafted mission statement doesn’t impact employees, managers, customers, or the way business is done.
Having said that, I believe mission statements are essential…we just need to pay more attention to them.
Thanks for listing 5 components to creating a mission statement.
LF readers may be interested in your website: http://www.leemanngroup.com/
Best to you,
You are right Dan. Can you even fathom the amount of time and money wasted in USA industry wordsmithing mission statements. I would be a very rich person with only 0.1% of the total salaries consumed by mission statement “work.”
The follow-up step, after finishing the 5 attributes of a mission statement, involves bringing the mission to life through an illustrated vision. Rather than spend time (wasted again) trying to predict a future state, I focus my clients on answering the question – If you could do anything to improve your current state RIGHT NOW, what would you do? Simple as this question may seem, it is extremely difficult for people to answer.
We spend too much time predicting and planning the future (e.g., strategic planning) and then wonder why we never are able to or want to execute our plan.
Spend time on what you can control and do now and over time you will experience change because your environment will force you to be agile and adapt to the changes going on around you.
Thanks Dan for the attribution.
I quite agree that too much time is spent in rustic but comfortable locations worthsmithing mission statements. It’s not about the statement. It’s about have a vision as a leader where you and your company / business / unit want to be in the (near) future.
This vision focusses your attention and your actions and (that’s why we started it) helps you reaching it.
The thing to keep in mind is that they are all (past, present and future) important. You have to remember the past and learn from it, you have to be able to deal with the present and be the best you can be, right now and you have to have a clear vision of your future.
When you start to worry about how much time you should spend thinking about the past and maybe less time thinking about the present and more time about the future, you lose the battle. When you need to think about the past to remember past successes or failures, then think about it. When you need to consider whether what you’re doing now is inline with where you want to go, then you need to think about your future.
The lesson to take away is to remember the past and learn from it. Have a clear vision of where you want your life to go. And based, on both of those, act accordingly in the present.
It sounds like you are trying to be the voice of reason. What I”ve found is some people look back too much. They need a kick in the pants. Others, and I’ve been guilty of this, need to celebrate the past a bit more.
Just a reminder to LF readers that sometimes the names of a commenter are actually links to their website/blog.
I’m thankful you dropped in,
I believe that both past and future are important, but I do not believe that we should set a predetermined limit to how much each is important. I think that the importance of “past” and any decision for the present or the future depends greatly on that subject or situation at hand. Some times you solely decide depending on past cumulative experience and in other situation you may need to improvise, innovate and think out side the box. The past can some time be a golden cage, you want to leave but you cannot.
Also, I do not know whether you “I” can have a vision without having a rich cumulative history “past”. Although it is simple to state, but still important: The past will lead to the future and the future is the fruit of the past.
Thanks for your first comment on LF. I appreciate it. You bring yet another perspective to creating vision.
And I love the last sentence. “The past will lead to the future and the future is the fruit of the past.”
Thoughtful post Dan. Agree with you and many of those commenting that leadership has to start in the future with being ‘up to something’ as Steve Ratcliffe would say (Steve very successful UK-based leadership coach – attended session run by him at my company at the end of last year – see http://www.futureengagedeliver.com/ ).
In my experience though, you have to simultaneously honour and accept the reality you are in to properly devine the path forward for you and your followers.
So for me you need both the vision and the pranja.
Welcome back Rickyabache,
Thanks for your comment. It made me think about the last time I crafted vision for my own life. The past and the present were huge motivators for forming a picture of the preferred future.
Thanks for the link.
Best to you,
Dan: Your more recent post June 7, and its reference to thid posting and discussion. When I first read the combinded and comingling of thoughts that the element that seem absent was that the vision needs to engage , motivate and perhaps even seduce the wider audeince and community. Wether we opt for 4% 20% or other arbitary allocation of time and energy in the past , it should cocus disproportionately on our prior vision’s effect on the individuals on whom we rely to manifest it in their daily activity and have it live in their hearts minds and active conciousness.
If the past deserves some respect is must be focused on the one constant of the human involvment and motivation in the vision. As others hav mentioned dats points, trends, macro and micro exonmics and politicl realities change.
The constant is the human components primacy. When we review dissect, or evizearate (sp?) what has come before our best return comes from understanding how the vision was taken on board, sustained nutured and the fire kept by others.
In this there is value always.